Dana Kirk, Memphis State basketball coach, says that size is measured in width as well as height, adding that Oklahoma takes up a lot of real estate.
It was a fair assessment of the Sooners, college basketball’s version of a wide-bodied jet aircraft.
And it will be big man on big man today at 10:58 a.m. (PST) when Memphis State and Oklahoma meet in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at Reunion Arena.
The Sooners have a front line of All-American Wayman Tisdale, who is 6-feet-9 and 250 pounds, and Darryl Kennedy, 6-feet-5 and 200. They also have David Johnson, at 6-feet-7 and 238, an active reserve forward.
Anthony Bowie, Oklahoma’s wingman and playmaker, says he doesn’t have any problem getting the ball to the big men.
“When they’re open, you can’t miss them,” he said.
So, while Oklahoma is likened to sprawling real estate, Memphis State has tall buildings in 7-foot center William Bedford and 6-foot-10 All-American Keith Lee.
The Sooners (31-5), seeded first in the Midwest Regional, and the Tigers (30-3), seeded second, are in the final, as expected.
But they barely survived semi-final games Thursday night.
Oklahoma beat Louisiana Tech, 86-84, on Tisdale’s eight-foot, turnaround jump shot with three seconds left in overtime. The ball bounced gently on the rim five times before finally falling through the net.
Memphis State guard Andre Turner beat Boston College, 59-57, by sinking a 17-foot jump shot with only one second left in regulation time. Last Sunday, he had disposed of Alabama Birmingham, 67-66, in a second-round game with a similar shot in the final five seconds of an overtime game.
Kirk and Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs praised one another’s team profusely Friday at a press conference.
“In the Billy Tubbs poll, I have Memphis State ranked among the top three teams in the country,” Tubbs said. “Never higher than one, or lower than three.”
Then, he added snidely, “We apologize that no ACC or Big East team is in this regional. But I definitely think that the Midwest is the strongest regional.”
Kirk concurred, adding: “The winner of the Oklahoma-Memphis State game will play for the NCAA championship.”
Therefore, he was predicting that either Oklahoma or Memphis State will beat the winner of the Southeast Regional when the tournament field is narrowed to the Final Four next Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
He could be right. It seems that if any team is capable of challenging Georgetown, the best of the East, it would be Oklahoma or Memphis State. They’re both physical, talented teams.
Unfortunately, they also tend to fall into prolonged lapses. Lee, in particular, virtually disappears from time to time. He commits seemingly unnecessary fouls, as he did Thursday night when he got three fouls in the first five minutes and didn’t play the rest of the half.
He played the second half and didn’t foul out, but he wasn’t a factor with only eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Bedford took up the slack, however, scoring 23 points while hitting 10 of 13.
Tisdale, an exuberant athlete and a favorite of Bob Knight when he was on the Olympic team, has been a force throughout the tournament. In three games, he has made 36 of his 49 shots and is averaging 26.6 points.
Neither team is renowned for its defense. Tubbs even chides the defensive purists by saying that he hates defense.
Kirk doesn’t believe it. “That’s just snake-oil talk,” he said. “Don’t forget that Oklahoma trailed Louisiana Tech by eight points in the first half and then caught up with its zone defense.”
When Lee was benched in the first half, Kirk went with a quicker lineup that kept the pressure on Boston College.
But offense is the game for today’s finalists. It should be up-tempo all the way. Tubbs said that he and Kirk will be on the honor system to play as if a 45-second clock is in effect, which it isn’t in tournament games.
“We’re not really a run-and-gun team,” Kirk said. “We’re a run-and-make-it team.”
With Oklahoma, though, it’s always full speed ahead. Stalls are only for horses in the Sooner system.
Midwest Regional Notes Dana Kirk says that it is almost certain that the NCAA will enact legislation for all conferences to employ a 45-second clock next season. . . . Kirk doesn’t believe that a player should be disqualified after a fifth foul. “I think a coach should have the option to keep the player in the game, or put him on the bench,” he said. “If he stays in after the fifth foul, his team would be penalized if he commits more fouls by having the other team shooting two free throws or taking the ball out of bounds. You don’t see football players being taken out of games no matter how many holding penalties they commit. It’s not fair to fans who drive 100 miles to see a Lee or Tisdale play, and then they’re on the bench in foul trouble.” . . . Oklahoma and Memphis State didn’t meet in the regular season, but the Tigers beat the Sooners, 69-65, in the season. . . . Willie Simmons, Louisiana Tech’s 6-foot-10 forward, got into foul trouble and didn’t play the final 16 minutes of the regulation game Thursday night.