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Curry Kirkpatrick
March 20, 1989
Transcending a troubled season, Missouri beat Oklahoma to win the Big Eight tournament
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March 20, 1989

Team Turmoil Triumphs

Transcending a troubled season, Missouri beat Oklahoma to win the Big Eight tournament

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"I'm an eye-reader and I see when we're not ready," Tubbs said. "It's not in their eyes. My guys don't really start playing until there's three minutes left. They must think they're playing in the NBA."

In the semifinals against the infant Cyclones of Iowa State and 6'9", 265-pound Victor (Pasta) Alexander (26 points, 10 rebounds, five orders of clam sauce), Oklahoma surely should have lost. The Sooners missed 10 three-point shots, Blaylock was rusty (7-for-20 shooting) and the effervescent King acted the knave, being churlish with the referees, picking up a technical foul, scoring a season-low 14 points and fouling out of the game with 3:35 left. Not once did he crank up his patented roll-the-dice pantomime.

But with the clock winding down on a 74-73 Iowa State victory, the Sooners controlled a missed Alexander foul shot (burp) and got the ball to guard Tyrone Jones. Smack in front of the Oklahoma bench, Jones lifted off for the Sooners' 11th and last trey attempt, a line drive that, if the basket hadn't gotten in the way, would have hit the outfield fence and scored George Brett with the winning run. As it was, the shot swished through and the Sooners escaped again, 76-74, to gain a berth in the championship game. "Hey, never count Oklahoma out," said King, who had as many quality quotes as he had minutes in Kansas City. "We're like a rattlesnake. We can bite and kill at any time."

But it was Missouri that must have felt snakebitten through most of an otherwise fine season (26-7). Controversy swirled around the Tiger program, created by the presence of an NCAA investigator on campus, the suspension of assistant coach Bob Sundvold for buying a player a plane ticket, and the usual surly travails of Stewart. But those problems were mere annoyances compared with Daly's month of misery in the Mizzou zoo:

?Upon being replaced in a Tiger defeat at Kansas State, Leonard and Sandbothe flashed cold glares at Daly, looks which Stewart would have answered by inviting the seniors to hike back to Columbia. Barefoot.

? After Irvin was benched in a victory over Nebraska, he was asked if Daly was just showing his "authority." Irvin snickered. "That makes me laugh," he said.

?Freshman Anthony Peeler's coach at Paseo High in Kansas City, Willie Bowie, revealed that Peeler told him that some practices under Daly "were just like when [Bowie] wasn't at practice. We didn't get anything done."

?In the last regular-season conference game, against Colorado, Leonard refused to go in the game when Daly told him to. "I didn't see any point, because I'd be out in two minutes again anyway," Leonard told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Later Leonard did play, but only after he had left his seat to chat with fans behind the Missouri bench. "Gary's a free speech kind of guy," said Daly.

In Kansas City, however, the Tiger coach and players vowed that their differences were behind them, even as an uptight Daly refused to answer whether Stewart might show up to inspire the team. "If? If? I'm not here to answer 'if questions. We're not an iffy team," the acting coach said on the very day that Stewart, unbeknownst to anybody connected with the team, checked into a Houston hospital for more tests. Even Missouri athletic director Dick Tamburo was unaware of Stewart's whereabouts until told by a Kansas City reporter. "Norm's a very private person, and I just wish he'd let more people get to know him," Tamburo said.

Just before Stewart left his team, the Tigers were ranked No. 3 in the polls. They seem to be reaching that level of play again. When Missouri attacks aggressively at both ends, when the Tigers accept roles and share the ball, when they do not bicker with Daly—in other words, when they put it together the way they did at the Big Eight last week—this is a team to behold.

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