At a news conference Wednesday, Billy Tubbs talked about the do-or-die format of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. basketball tournament.
“You’d better win or get your butt out of town,” the Oklahoma coach said. “I’d say that’s an urgent matter.”
Tubbs’ message, though, seemed to be lost on his players.
Virginia upset the top-seeded Sooners, 86-80, before a crowd of 22,314 Thursday night in the semifinals of the Southeast Regional.
The victory moved the Cavaliers (22-10) into the regional final Saturday against Michigan, a 92-87 winner over North Carolina.
The loss, meanwhile, ended the season for Oklahoma, which was 30-6 and hoped to make an encore appearance in the championship game after losing in last season’s final to Danny Manning and Kansas.
A play late in the first half summed up the night for Oklahoma.
Chasing a loose ball, Virginia’s Bryant Stith accidently caught a finger in the left eye of Mookie Blaylock, the Sooners’ playmaker and No. 2 scorer.
Blaylock’s eye was swollen shut the entire second half.
“It pretty much took him out of the game,” Tubbs said of the injury, which may have played at least some part in Blaylock’s two-of-12 shooting, although Blaylock made only one of seven shots before he was injured.
But no foul was called.
In fact, only 10 fouls were whistled against the Cavaliers, who took advantage of the 26 called against Oklahoma to make 27 of 36 free throws.
Oklahoma made eight of nine foul shots.
“I noticed that,” Tubbs said, sarcastically. “I guess we fouled too much. I can’t recall a situation like that. I didn’t understand it. I haven’t understood officiating in a long time.”
Officiating, though, didn’t win the game for Virginia.
“We just got whipped,” Tubbs said.
Much of the whipping was done by Stith, a 6-foot 5-inch freshman forward who led the Cavaliers with 28 points, and by guards Richard Morgan and John Crotty. Morgan, who has scored 81 points in Virginia’s three tournament games, made five of eight three-point shots and scored 25 points. Crotty, a crafty sophomore playmaker, had 14 points and eight assists.
Center Brent Dabbs contributed 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds as the Cavaliers dominated inside, outrebounding the Sooners, 38-26.
Virginia made only 48.2% of its shots, “but we won because we did enough of the other things,” Coach Terry Holland said.
Among them was limiting Stacey King, Oklahoma’s 6-11 All-American center, to two points while building a 42-37 halftime lead.
King eventually scored a team-high 22 points, and his three-point play and two subsequent jumpers highlighted an 11-2 run that gave the seemingly surging Sooners a 72-69 lead with 5:08 left.
Morgan, though, then dropped a three-point bomb on the Sooners, sparking a 9-0 blitz by Virginia that also included a free throw and a driving layup by Crotty, and another three-point shot by Morgan.
“We thought the momentum was going our way,” King said, “but Virginia is a well-coached team. They kept their composure and didn’t wilt under the pressure. And then Richard Morgan hit some crucial three-pointers that shifted the momentum to their side.”
For good, as it turned out.
Crotty’s free throw with 3:11 left ended the run, giving Virginia a 78-72 lead, and the Cavaliers never led by fewer than four points the rest of the way.
“Physically, they just did a better job than we did,” Tubbs said. “They had two or three players that really had outstanding games.”
And Tubbs had one, in particular, who had a poor game.
Four Sooners scored in double figures, including sophomore guard Terrence Mullins, who made four of eight three-point shots and scored 16 points.
But Blaylock scored only five points, his lowest output of a season in which he averaged more than 20 points a game and, along with King, led the Sooners to the top of the polls for several weeks.
Crotty, who doesn’t seem to miss much on the floor, sensed something was wrong even before Blaylock’s eye was injured.
“I think he had a tough time getting into the flow and rhythm of their offense,” Crotty said. “Usually, he’s a scoring threat once he receives the ball on the opposite side of the floor. I was denying him, but the few times he got it, it seemed like he wasn’t as aggressive and he backed off.”
As Tubbs could tell his senior guard, it was a bad time to be timid.