Oklahoma basketball: Roy Williams’ impact reached Sooners

Roy Williams was head coach at his alma mater, North Carolina for 18 seasons, but it is his 15 seasons at Kansas that Oklahoma basketball fans will remember most.

Williams announced his retirement this week after 33 seasons as a major college head coach. He won over 400 games at both Kansas and North Carolina, the only coach in the history of college basketball to have done so. His 903 total wins ranks 11th all-time among college basketball coaches.

The 70-year-old Williams never won a national championship while at Kansas, but he did lead the Jayhawks to four Final Four appearances and finished as national runner-up twice. Kansas only missed the NCAA Tournament once (in his first season there, 1988-89) in his 15 seasons as head coach.

While coaching at North Carolina, however, Williams finally reached college basketball’s promised land. He took the Tar Heels to five Final Fours and came out on top in three of them.

Oklahoma and Kansas met a total of 28 times in the 15 seasons Williams served as head coach of the Jayhawks.

Roy Williams arrived at Kansas  the same year OU lost to KU for the national championship

Williams was hired at Kansas following the 1987-88 season. He succeeded head-coaching journeyman Larry Brown, who guided Kansas to one of the most shocking national championship game upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas advanced to the Final Four and the national championship game as a No. 6 seed. Their opponent in that game was No. 1-seeded Oklahoma. The Sooners came into the championship game with a 35-3 record and as both Big Eight regular-season and tournament champions. OU had beaten the Jayhawks twice during the season and now they were in an All-Big 12 showdown for the national championship.

The OU starting five under head coach Billy Tubbs featured two All-Americans (Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock) and three players (King, Blaylock and Harvey Grant) who would go on to be NBA Draft first-round picks. The Sooners were heavy favorites, but the star of the game was Kansas’ Danny Manning and “Danny and the Miracles,” as the next morning’s headlines proclaimed, managed to wear down the “run, run, run and gun” Sooners and pull off a stunning 83-79 victory.

Brown stepped down after that game, and Kansas brought in first-time head coach Roy Williams to replace him. No one knew much of anything about Williams, other than he played at North Carolina and was an assistant under former KU player and alum Dean Smith at North Carolina.

Williams had a winning record against Oklahoma

Tubbs and the Sooners welcomed the new Kansas head coach to the Big 12 and his first head-coaching assignment with a 123-95 win over the Jayhawks in the first meeting between the two teams in Williams inaugural season. Oklahoma would win five of the first six games against the Jayhawks after Williams took the job.

The tide turned dramatically after that though. From 1991 to Williams’ last season at Kansas in 2002, the Jayhawks were 15-6 against Sooner teams coached by Tubbs and Kelvin Sampson. And during one 18-game stretch over that time, Kansas won 15 of 18 games against Oklahoma.

Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse has been a House of Horrors for Oklahoma basketball teams the past three decades. Since 1990, the Sooners have won just once in 23 games on the road at Kansas. OU won just twice in 11 games played in Lawrence while Williams was the coach there.

Oklahoma was just 11-17 overall against Williams and Kansas in his 15 seasons coaching the Jayhawks. But the Sooners were able to bookend that record with a 123-95 victory in the first game Williams coached against Oklahoma, and they sent him off to North Carolina with a loss in the last game he coached against the Sooners while at Kansas. OU defeated Kansas 64-55 in the Big 12 Tournament championship game in 2002.