Oklahoma Swamps Weaker Teams, but They Don't Mind It

Associated Press SPORTS WRITER

It's not often you knock someone down on the playground and have them get up and say nice things about you. It happens to Billy Tubbs all the time.

"I didn't schedule Oklahoma to have that done to me, but no, I got no hard feelings," said Angelo State Coach Ed Messbarger, whose Rams got hammered 130-62 Monday night by the Tubbs bunch at 12th-ranked Oklahoma.

"He wants his kids loose and confident, and obviously it's working. Heck, Billy and I go back a few years, and that's always been his philosophy. I knew that," Messbarger added, "before I ever set foot in the place."

Think Messbarger is only holding his tongue because the Sooners' 68-point margin was their smallest this season? Think again.

Northeastern Illinois' Golden Eagles got shot down 146-51 Saturday by the Sooners--the 95-point margin was the highest ever involving a Division I team--and Coach Rees Johnson wasn't biting his lip either.

"A lot of people don't like the way he operates or the fact that Billy runs it up," Johnson said, "but I think he's done an outstanding job.

"If it was a math class and you got an A on your first two tests and the teacher told you to get a C on the next one, you'd be pretty disappointed. Well, Billy is just trying to teach his kids to play as hard as they can whether they're up six or 60."

As it turned out, math skills did play an important role in Oklahoma's season-opening 173-101 victory over U.S. International. The Sooners missed college basketball's first 100-point half by failing to connect on four 3-point shots in the final minute of the period and had to settle for a record 97.

"That's what academics will do for you," Tubbs said. "Our guys subtracted from 100 and figured the only way to get there was the 3-point shot."

Admittedly, the Gulls are used to this kind of treatment. They finished on the short end of the 181-150 contest last season in which Loyola Marymount set the NCAA mark for most points by a team. But did USIU Coach Gary Zarecky have to say that Tubbs didn't do anything wrong--except take off the Oklahoma press late in the game?

"I heard that, but they pressed all the way against us, beginning to end. We knew that's the way it was when you went to Oklahoma," Johnson said. "We just didn't know they'd pick us up at the airport."

Loading up on cupcakes, however, is a time-honored practice not practiced exclusively by Tubbs.

No. 3 Georgetown, for instance, has roughed out a spot on its schedule each of the last four years for that Florida powerhouse St. Leo and had enough room left over this season for Florida International and District of Columbia. Similarly, No. 4 Missouri gets acquainted with Tennessee-Martin and Kearney State this go-round.

Sure, the purists howl. But the sacrificial lambs go willingly--even though they almost always venture into the lion's den, almost always lose the lion's share of the calls and almost certainly get devoured.

If their fates aren't different, their reasons are.

Northeastern Illinois, which will make the jump up from Division II next season, wanted the exposure and the bucks. The trips to Norman this year and next are for a guaranteed $25,000 versus the $3,500 that lesser-known Division I opponents pay to feast on the Golden Eagles.

In Angelo State's case, the rivalry at least has some tradition behind it. Messbarger beat Tubbs four straight in NAIA play when the former was at St. Mary's and the latter at Southwest Texas.

And although Johnson and Messbarger harbor annual dreams about being the David who brings down Goliath, both also venture to Oklahoma to see how they measure up in the big time.

"We were up six points early on," Messbarger said. "Of course, I think they rolled off 30 straight from that point on."

Scoring runs like that--especially those that come when Oklahoma is already 20 or 30 points ahead--have not made Tubbs many friends in the coaching fraternity. But they have influenced people.

In those three games, Oklahoma has averaged 149 points and a 78.3 margin of victory. Nine Sooners' players are averaging at least 13 minutes playing time each, cogs in the full-court, pressing defense that cranks up the scoring machine (Oklahoma's opponents have made 133 turnovers in those three games) and has been a Tubbs' trademark back through his days at Southwest and Lamar.

Indeed, now that teams like UNLV and Loyola Marymount routinely roll past the century mark as well--and succeed--Tubbs is losing some of his outlaw image, and his style of play is being seen less as trying to drown opponents and more as the wave of the future.

"If I knew playing and scoring 50 points was the only way to win, that's the way I'd be playing," Tubbs said.

"But I've said before the future of the game will be higher tempo. I don't feel a responsibility or an obligation to lead the way, but I think the 100-point half, the 200-point game is going to happen soon enough, and I certainly wouldn't mind being the guy who notches them.

"I feel you owe the fans a good play every time down the floor, and I'm not going to worry what anybody else says. In the past, we usually sprinkled (weaker teams) all through the schedule. This year, it just worked out we hit them in a row."

The road forks Saturday, though, when UNLV visits Norman.

"We like every level of competition," Tubbs said, "and I've been in the same place that Rees and Ed Messbarger have.

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