KU Basketball History and Traditions: Their Greatest NCAA Tournament Victories
KU Basketball: A tradition second to none
The University of Kansas Men’s Basketball Team played in 2799 games entering the 2010-2011 season and won 2003, third all-time behind Kentucky and North Carolina. 122 of these games were played in the NCAA Tournament, where KU has won 85 times. Since 1974, KU has made the NCAA Tournament 30 times, with 21 consecutive appearances. I’ve been a Kansas Jayhawks fan for over 35 years and have seen many memorable tournament games. There have been countless spectacular victories, such as KU’s wins over Oklahoma and Memphis for their second and third NCAA championships. There were a few dramatic defeats as well, including their loss to Syracuse in the last KU game coached by Roy Williams (you remember—Michael Lee’s three-point attempt to tie the game was blocked by Hakeem Warrick.) Many historic performances have added to the great tradition of KU Basketball, but these are my choices for KU’s ten greatest victories in the NCAA Tournament since 1974.
The players behind KU's greatest NCAA moments
KU's Greatest NCAA Tournament Victories
Oklahoma 1988 (83-79): One of the greatest games in NCAA Championship history pitted KU against the talented Oklahoma Sooners. Although KU previously lost to the Sooners twice during the regular season, KU wasn’t intimidated by their pressure defense and all-star lineup. CBS analyst Billy Packer said the Hawks couldn’t win running with Oklahoma, but KU pushed the ball upcourt at every opportunity and the score was tied 50-50 at halftime. Danny Manning dominated Harvey Grant and Stacey King inside with 31 points and 18 rebounds, and the other four starters were a combined 17-21 from the field.
Memphis 2008 (75-68): In the title game against Memphis and freshman star Derrick Rose, KU overcame a nine point deficit with 2:12 remaining to force overtime. Mario Chalmers hit a contested three-point shot with 2.1 seconds remaining to knot the game at 63. The dramatic comeback deflated the Memphis Tigers, and Kansas scored the first six points in overtime and claimed a 75-68 victory for their third NCAA title. Sophomore Darrell Arthur led KU with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but Mario Chalmers was named Most Outstanding Player.
North Carolina 2008 (84-66): KU faced #1 seed North Carolina and former head coach Roy Williams. Despite the wealth of talent on North Carolina’s roster, KU made it look easy. The Jayhawks raced to an incredible 41-12 lead in the first half, prompting CBS analyst Billy Packer to declare the game “Over!” UNC fought back to within five points, but didn’t have enough left to finish the comeback and lost 84-66. Brandon Rush scored 25 points with seven rebounds for KU, and some wondered if Roy Williams’ sudden decision to withdraw a scholarship offer to Rush’s brother JaRon in 1998 motivated him to play well.
Arkansas 1991 (93-81): After demolishing the third-ranked Indiana Hoosiers two nights earlier, KU faced the second-ranked Razorbacks of Nolan Richardson and their vaunted defense, named “40 minutes of Hell.” Fast and athletic, Arkansas pressured the entire game and made life miserable for opponents. Todd Day scored 21 points in the first half for the Hogs, who bolted to a 12-point halftime lead. KU came out on fire and blitzed Arkansas in the second half, 58-34 to win the game by 12—an impressive 24 point turnaround. Alonzo Jamison scored 26 points with 9 rebounds to lead the Hawks and helped hold Day to five second-half points.
North Carolina 1991 (79-73): A Final Four matchup pitted Coach Roy Williams against his mentor, Dean Smith. Carolina jumped out to an early 24-15 lead, but Kansas battled back with a 17-1 run and led at the half, 43-34. KU pushed their lead to 10 points in the second half, but the Tar Heels held the Hawks to 5 points in 8 minutes and only trailed by one. Alonzo Jamison then sparked a 7-0 run that finished Carolina. The matchup received additional attention when Dean Smith was ejected near the end of the game. Smith was humble and apologetic, but his tirade unfortunately drew attention to himself and away from the more-deserving Kansas team.
Arizona State 1981 (88-71): KU played an Arizona State team loaded with talent: Byron Scott, Lafayette Lever, and Alton Lister all suited up for the Sun Devils. This game was highlighted by Tony Guy’s duel with Byron Scott. Scott scored 32 points for Arizona State, while Guy countered with 36 of his own. Darnell Valentine also outplayed Fat Lever at the other guard spot, outscoring him 16-9. Unfortunately, the Jayhawk faithful only saw part of the game. When KU bolted to a big lead, CBS sports cut to a more “competitive” game, forcing frustrated viewers to the radio. KU radio broadcaster Max Falkenstien kept us apprised of the action as KU dismantled Arizona State.
Duke 1988 (66-59): KU reached the Final Four for the second time in three years and found the Duke Blue Devils waiting for them both times. Eager to avenge their loss in 1986, Kansas came out hot and raced to leads of 14-0 and 24-6. Duke fought back and pulled to within three points with less than five minutes remaining, but KU ended the game with an 11-4 run. Danny Manning was at his most brilliant with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals and 6 blocked shots. Milt Newton added 20 points and 7 rebounds. KU finally defeated the Duke Blue Devils.
Oral Roberts 1974 (93-90): The clash with Oral Roberts was remembered as much for the controversy surrounding Coach Ken Trickey as the game itself. Trickey, stopped by police the week before the game, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The contrite coach prayed with Evangelist Oral Roberts and they concluded God wanted Trickey to coach against Kansas. Their run-and-gun style caught the methodical Jayhawks off-guard, and they led by seven with 3:19 to play. Kansas tied the game 90 seconds later and forced overtime. In the extra session, the Hawks superior size and talent won the day. The game propelled the Jayhawks into the Final Four with UCLA, North Carolina State, and Marquette.
Arizona 2003 (78-75): For the second time in 2003, KU held a double-digit lead over #1 Arizona. Earlier in the year, the Hawks were blasted 91-74 at home after leading by 13 in the first half. This time, however, KU held on for the win and a trip back to the Final Four. KU was led by Kirk Hinrich with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Much maligned center Jeff Graves overwhelmed Arizona’s Channing Frye with 13 points and 15 rebounds while Nick Collison contributed 8 points and 9 rebounds. The win was number 1800 for KU.
Oregon 2002 (104-86): One of the most versatile KU teams of all time crashed the 2002 Final Four with a dismantling of Oregon. Nick Collison led Kansas with 25 points and 15 rebounds, while Drew Gooden added 18 points and 20 rebounds. Freshman forward Keith Langford contributed 20 points and 7 rebounds. The Jayhawks pounded the Ducks on the boards, compiling a 63-34 rebound advantage. The game was close in the first half, but KU wore down Oregon in the second period to win going away. Nine players scored for KU, including walk-on Chris Zerbe.
The Honorable Mention Games:
KU has so many memorable moments in the NCAA Tournament, I couldn’t stop with ten. Here are my honorable mention great tournament games: KU versus Duke 2003 (69-65): Nick Collison scored 33 points with 19 rebounds; KU versus Marquette 2003 (94-61): KU annihilated Marquette and future NBA star Dwayne Wade; KU versus Michigan State 1986 (96-86): A balanced KU squad squeaked by Scott Skiles and the Spartans in a controversial overtime matchup, remembered for the malfunctioning clock; KU versus California 1993 (93-76): KU defeated California and star point guard Jason Kidd. Fans were forced to endure Bill Raftery’s cloyingly solicitous admiration for Kidd (there’s a new KIDD on the block!!), but won in the end; KU versus Indiana 1991 (83-65): KU bolted to a 26-6 lead against the 3rd ranked Hoosiers and never looked back.
There they are: KU’s ten greatest wins in the NCAA Tournament since 1974. Great teams, great players, great moments, and best of all—great memories.