Manning the Man, Kansas the Champion
By John Feinstein
Five seconds remained in the national title game and Kansas was clinging to a two-point lead over Oklahoma. Manning stepped to the foul line, stared at the front rim and put one thought in his mind: "It's over."
Forty-seven seconds earlier, he had missed the front end of a one-and-one. Not now. He swished the first. He swished the second. And, five seconds later, when Ricky Grace's last desperate shot bounded off the backboard, Manning was there to grab the ball, cradle it and run into history with it, the hero of the Jayhawks' dramatic 83-79 victory.
"We deserve this," Manning said, his 31 points and 18 rebounds testimony that he deserved the MVP award. "This wasn't any gift. Some people may say we were lucky, but what is luck? It's preparing to meet opportunity. We did that."
Indeed. There was no luck involved in this victory. The Jayhawks (27-11) figured out the Sooners' press, played their game to a 50-50 tie for a half and then took control of the tempo in the second half, shutting off the inside just when Oklahoma (35-4) went cold from outside.
Everyone in Kansas blue contributed. Manning was expected to be a giant and he was. But Milt Newton, the Coolidge High School graduate, hit all six of his field goal attempts and finished with 15 points. Kevin Pritchard, who didn't become a point guard until two months ago, had 13 points and broke the back of the Oklahoma press. Chris Piper may have hit the two biggest buckets of the game. Jeff Gueldner, the baby-faced sophomore guard, made the evening's most important defensive play.
Oklahoma, which has lived off its press all season, wearing opponents down, died with it tonight. Coach Billy Tubbs used only six players, and in the guts of the game the Sooners looked leg-weary and it showed up in their shooting. They got 22 points from Dave Sieger -- 18 in the first half -- and 17 from Stacey King, but they shot just 36 percent in the second half and 43 percent for the game, 21 percent less than Kansas.
"They played a great basketball game," Tubbs said. "You can't shoot any better than they did in the first half. This is a bitter defeat because we came here thinking we could win it all and we didn't do it."
They didn't do it because a great player -- Manning -- and a great coach -- Larry Brown -- took control of the game in the last 12 minutes. Kansas had felt coming in that it could attack Oklahoma's press at least for a while and get as many easy baskets from it as they had to concede.
That is just what happened the first half. With Pritchard getting off to a good start that the Kansas coaches believed was vital, the game was torrid from the start. Kansas hit 17 of its first 20 shots and had a one-point lead, 36-35. If the Jayhawks got the ball up the floor, they got a good shot. And, even when they didn't get that good of a shot, they made it.
At the half, Brown knew his team could not continue to run with Oklahoma and hope to win. "I was glad we'd stayed with 'em," he said. "When Danny got his second foul :with 10:44 left in the first half: I thought we needed to shorten the game. But our guys kept getting opportunity shots. They thought they could make 'em and, fortunately, they did."
When Manning picked up his third foul on an offensive shove in the first minute of the second half, it was apparent that tempo would be crucial to the final outcome. At that point, the coaches came into play. Two Manning baskets and a Newton jumper gave Kansas a 58-54 lead with 16:25 left. Tubbs, whose team won 35 games by pressing, decided to change.
"They were beating our press," he said. "They were getting easy shots. I thought it was during the time that we backed the press off that we made our run and got back into the game."
Short term, Tubbs was right. His team went on an 11-2 tear, taking a 65-60 lead on a short King jumper inside with 12:14 left. If Oklahoma had picked up the pressure again right then it might have blown away the Jayhawks, as it had done so often to teams all season.
But, even though Kansas was behind, this had become its type of game. The pace was slowed. There would be no easy baskets for Oklahoma the rest of the night and that was exactly was Kansas needed.
Three plays changed the game during the next 60 seconds. First, after Manning missed a hook shot, Gueldner surprised Grace by jumping out and overplaying a perimeter pass to Mookie Blaylock. Gueldner deflected the pass, it hit Blaylock's leg and rolled out of bounds. The Sooners chance to go up by seven was gone.
Seconds later, Piper hit a 16-footer ending Kansas' longest drought of the game, 2:17. That made it 65-62. After a three-second call against King, Manning drove the baseline, dipped under King and hit a soft scoop shot while he was being fouled. The free throw made it 65-65 and with 11:13 left. Kansas had the game exactly where it wanted it: tied, with the pace slowed to a walk.
Oklahoma led once more, 68-65, on a Blaylock three-pointer but two Manning baskets, one on a strong post-up move, the other on a running hook, put the Jayhawks back up, 69-68, with 8:50 left. Harvey Grant, invisible most of the second half, missed a jumper, and when Piper hit a 10-footer from the baseline with 7:20 left, Kansas led, 71-68.
Sieger hit a free thow and, after a Manning walk, Grant finally scored, tossing in a fallaway jumper that tied the game for the last time, 71-71 with 5:55 to go.
"They played excellent defense on the inside," King said. "But, still, Danny knows in his heart that he should have fouled out of this game. We were playing eight-against-five out there, especially in the second half."
After Grant had tied the score, Pritchard coolly drove left, pulled up and put Kansas up, 73-71, with 5:32 left. Oklahoma never got even again.
But Kansas kept playing. Manning, on a night of memorable shots, made the most memorable one of all, a lefty hook with 4:05 left for a 75-71 lead. Grace missed and Piper hit again as the shot-clock buzzer went off for a 77-71 margin with 3:04 to go.
Oklahoma crept back. A drive by Grace made it 78-75 with 58 seconds to go. Manning missed the front end of the one-and-one. The screams were coming from both ends of the arena. Blaylock scooped a layup in with 40 seconds left and it was 78-77.
Kansas killed 24 seconds before Oklahoma fouled Scooter Barry, the son of the greatest foul shooter in NBA history, Rick Barry. Scooter's first one was perfect: 79-77. But the second hit the front rim. Manning and King dove for it. King pushed. "If anything," King insisted, "he fouled me."
No matter. Manning was on the line with 14 seconds left. This time his first shot hit the front rim, sneaked over it, hit the backboard, came back to the edge of the rim, and dropped. The second swished. Oklahoma had one last gasp, a Grace drive with seven seconds on the clock that made it 81-79.
Kansas had to get the ball inbounds. "We wanted it in Danny's hands," Piper said. "The first time, I couldn't find him so I called time. The second he was right there."
Right there to catch the inbounds and take the foul with five ticks to go. As he walked down the floor, Manning knew this was what he had waited for all his basketball-playing life.
"I knew the game was over," he said, "before I even shot them."
The shots were as pure as the joy the Jayhawks felt as that last Grace shot caromed to Manning. They had come from nowhere, from the depths of a season nearly given up on to this, a dream that really did come true.
Yes Dorothy, there is a Danny. And tonight, he used brains, heart and courage and brought the national championship home to Kansas.
© Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company