Oklahoma basketball: Strangers not, Mizzou and OU have storied history

COLUMBIA, MO - JANUARY 03: Andrew Fitzgerald #4 of the Oklahoma Sooners in action during the game against the Missouri Tigers on January 3, 2012 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, MO - JANUARY 03: Andrew Fitzgerald #4 of the Oklahoma Sooners in action during the game against the Missouri Tigers on January 3, 2012 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Opening games in the NCAA Tournament rarely match up old foes — er, fierce enemies — like Oklahoma basketball is with Missouri.

The No. 8-seeded Sooners and No. 9 Tigers meet in the opening round of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and although they have played each other just twice in the last decade, it will be the 212th time they have faced each other on the hardwood.

For 93 years, Oklahoma and Missouri were members of the same conference, beginning with what was then the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1919. That conference morphed into what became the Big Six, then the Big Seven, the Big Eight and, ultimately the Big 12.

At the end of first decade of the 2000s, conference realignment resulted in Missouri leaving the Big 12 for a new affiliation in the Southeastern Conference.

There may not be much national interest in Saturday’s first-round matchup between OU and MU, but you can bet on the fact that’s not the case with the dyed in the wool fan bases of both schools. The two teams have had some epic basketball battles over the years and plenty of enduring stories and tales to go along with them.

The only other time the two teams faced each other in the NCAA Tournament was in 2002, when No, 2 Oklahoma defeated 12th-seeded Missouri 81-75 to in the West Region finals to advance to the Final Four. Hollis Price finished with a team-high 18 points, including four of seven from three-point range, and Ebi Eri added 17 as four Sooner starters scored in double figures and OU completed a two-game sweep of the Tigers that season.

Oklahoma and Missouri have played two times since the Tigers left the Big 12 after the 2011-12 season. OU won both games. The Sooners defeated Mizzou 82-63 in Norman in December 2014 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

The Sooners and Tigers squared off again last season with OU winning 77-66 in Kansas City. Seven Sooners on the current roster, including the team’s leading scorer this season, Austin Reaves, played in that game.

Who will forget the bitter back-and-forth between Billy Tubbs and Norm Stewart

Some of the more memorable games in the long history of Oklahoma and Missouri basketball occurred in the decade of the 1980s and the bitter coaching rivalry between OU’s Billy Tubbs and the equally feisty, longtime Missouri head coach, Norm Stewart.

There have not been two more colorful coaching characters in the history of the Big Eight and Big 12 Conferences.

Longtime fans of both teams will never forget the time in the 1988-89 season when No. 5-ranked Oklahoma hosted No. 3 Missouri in Norman. Stewart didn’t even make it to that game. He passed out on the flight to Norman and was hospitalized in Oklahoma City with bleeding ulcers.

Missouri raced out to a big, double-digit, first-half lead, which brought the rancor of the Sooner fans in the stands. The fans were given toy megaphones as part of a promotional giveaway that night, and they had begun hurling the giveaway item onto the court, expressing frustration over the officiating and the poor play by Oklahoma.

Referee Ed Hightower stopped the game and asked Tubbs to speak to the unruly crowd. That’s when the OU head coach walked over to the scorer’s table, took the microphone in hand and implored the crowd to refrain from throwing items onto the floor “regardless of how terrible the officiating is.”

Hightower immediately whistled Tubbs for a technical foul, which fired up the crowd some more, but in a positive way this time, and also fired up the Oklahoma players, who mounted a big comeback and went on to defeat the third-ranked Tigers in a 112-105 shootout.

Several times in the latter half of the 1980s, when Missouri and Oklahoma met in the quarterfinals, semifinals and once in the finals of the Big 12 Tournament, Stewart called Tubbs a “jackass” while Tubbs referred to Stewart as “Francis the talking horse.” And those were just the milder references.

The same season that Tubbs addressed the Oklahoma crowd during the game with Missouri, the Tigers exacted some revenge by beating the Sooners for the Big 12 Tournament championship.

And who will forget the 1989-90 season when over a period of 48 hours Oklahoma knocked off No. 1 Missouri followed by No. 5 Kansas by 17 and 22 points, respectively, to takeover the top spot in the college basketball rankings.

Lon Kruger and Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin are not Tubbs and Stewart — far be it — but the game on Saturday between these two former longtime conference adversaries should be no less exciting.

Kruger, by the way, is 5-9 all-time as a head coach against Missouri (3-7 as head coach at Kansas State, 1986-90, and 2-2 as head coach at Oklahoma).