Oklahoma is a football school, right? Well, don’t tell that to this season’s Oklahoma basketball team.
The Sooners are making only their fifth trip to college basketball’s coveted center court: the Final Four. Their most recent Final Four appearance was in 2002, when an OU team led by Aaron McGhee, Hollis Price and Ebi Ere was paired with the Indiana Hoosiers.
Oklahoma advanced as the No. 2 seed in the West Region (the same as they were this season). Indiana was the No. 5 seed out of the South Region.
The Sooners took a 34-30 lead into halftime, but were unable to hold off Indiana in the second half, despite 22 points by McGhee and 15 from Ere, as Oklahoma fell to the lower-seeded Hoosiers by a final score of 72-63. The Sooners finished the season with a record of 31-5 and a No. 3 ranking in the final Associated Press poll of the 2001-02 season.
Oklahoma came even closer to claiming its first national crown in basketball in 1988, when No. 1 seed Oklahoma met No. 6 seed Kansas in the championship final in Kansas City, Kan., just a 30-minute drive from the University of Kansas campus.
The Sooners, led by All-Americans Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock, were heavy favorites over the Jayhawks, who that season were led by their own All-American in Danny Manning. Oklahoma had beaten the Jayhawks twice during the regular season, but it is widely considered that beating the same team three times in the same season is one of the most difficult tasks in college basketball.
That universal theory proved to be true as Kansas attacked the Sooners with a taste of their own medicine: a run-and-gun, fast-paced, up-and-down game. And it worked. The score at halftime was tied at 50-all, and by midway through the second half, the Oklahoma players were the ones who exhibited the greater signs of fatigue.
Manning put on an offensive show that brought the highly partisan Kansas crowd to its feet and willed the undermanned Jayhawks to the upset victory, denying the Sooners a third win over Kansas in the 1987-88 season and, more importantly, a first-ever national title in basketball.
Kansas held on to win the game by four points, 81-77, recording one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Basketball Championship history.
Oklahoma’s two other Final Four appearances were 41 and 49 years earlier than 1988. The Sooners inaugural Final Four appearance just happened to coincide with the first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1939. Oklahoma was one of eight teams competing for the national championship that season, with a 12-9 overall record. The Sooners beat Utah State in the Western Regional semifinals, but were unable to get by Oregon in the regional final.
Oregon went on to beat Ohio State for the 1939 NCAA Championship.
In a bit of an ironic twist, it was Oregon that the Sooners defeated in this year’s West Regional final to earn one of the four spots in the 2016 Final Four.
Bruce Drake, who was the Oklahoma head coach in 1939 was also at the helm eight years later, in 1947, when the Sooners made their second Final Four appearance. Oklahoma entered the NCAA Tournament that year with a 22-6 record.
The Sooners won their first two tournament games by a combined three points, over Oregon State and Texas, in the Western Regional semifinals and final, held in Kansas City, but lost to Holy Cross in one of the national semifinal games at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Heading into a national semifinals showdown with Villanova on Saturday, Oklahoma sports an overall NCAA Tournament record of 41-29 in 30 appearances. The Sooners are 2-4 in their four trips to the Final Four, and hoping to even that out this season.