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KU Basketball History and Traditions: Their Greatest NCAA Tournament Victories

Mike has been an online writer for over 10 years. His writing often focuses on painting, photography, and sports (especially basketball).

Inside of Allen Fieldhouse

Inside of Allen Fieldhouse

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.

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.



Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on September 25, 2012:

Regarding the comment I made directly prior to this one: KU almost DID do that again in 2012.... What a great season!

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Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 30, 2012:

Ron, thanks for stopping by and commenting! The Oklahoma game was amazing, and while Tom considered the KU-Memphis game the best, I like this one because of Manning's amazing game. I also remember Manning shooting the free throws with Ed Manning on the sideline looking nervous, and Rick Barry in the stands pumping his fist after Scooter hit a free throw or two. It was a fun game to watch, and summed up Manning's career perfectly.

Now, if we can just do that again in 2012...


Ron A on March 23, 2012:

The win over Oklahoma in '88 was easily the best win. No one outside of Kansas thought we had a chance that year. In 2008 everyone thought we had a chance for at least a Final Four appearance. Every game in 1988 someone stepped up and had the best game of their life.

The two plays that stand out the most in my mind in that final game were Clint Normore hitting a three from the top of the key with time running out & Milt Newton doing a Dr. J imitation and somehow foating all the way from one side of the lane across to the other and doing a reverse layup. The other play that stands out in my mind is Danny getting out on the break and making a layup near the end to pretty much seal the game.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on December 31, 2010:

Husky, thanks for reading. These really were some fun games to watch, and I hope this year adds a great moment or two to the mix. I will check out your hub about Duke and Coach K. Thanks for stopping by.


Husky1970 on December 29, 2010:

Those were some great games. The 1988 Regional Final game absolutely ruined my daughter's 21st birthday. Check out

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 19, 2010:

Red_Dragon, thanks for your comments. You are correct, Chalmers and Derrick Rose both ended up on teams that needed them and were able to use their talents well--it was an especially nice break for Chalmers (Rose would do well anywhere he went, I think). By going to a team that needed him, Mario Chalmers is developing nicely as a pro, which is good to see.

Thanks again.

Red_Dragon on January 19, 2010:

I cant forget these, Mario Chalmers is becoming a pretty solid pro right now as well. Though Derrick Rose will end up being a Super Star in the veins of Steve Nash and Chris Paul. They both were really lucky guys as well, they both go to go to teams that would utilize them to there full potential. Miami was the best bet for Chalmers and Derrick Rose pretty much runs the Bulls now. GREAT article.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 13, 2010:

Hey, Tom, welcome back. There is also a domino effect to winning. Add another title or two, and suddenly better players are looking at your school instead of Duke or Carolina (especially if you take a title or two from them). Then the reputation and tradition builds even more, growing if not exponentially then at least considerably. If everything else played out in a relatively similar manner, KU could have the all-time victory total now instead of being third. That would be amazing, also.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on January 13, 2010:

I think it would have been more than merely a bonus for KU if Archie had remained healthy. Recall that toward the end of the game, all of KU's "bigs" had fouled out. We were treated with the sight of our 5'9'' point guard trying to block out their 6'9'' forwards. All of our top rebounders were gone. If Archie had been available--well, first of all, he was a great rebounder (I believe he already had 10 rebounds in the first half, but I may be wrong, but he had a lot). So to have him in there would have been a big plus. But second, if he had been available, perhaps either Manning or Dreiling might have still been around, as they would not have had to play as many minutes. So, even with the grotesque distribution of fouls (even to the end--if you recall, Kellogg drove to the hoop--barely missing a layup that bounced about for 2 seconds--and ran over a Duke player, WHO WAS STANDING DIRECTLY UNDER THE BASKET. Kellogg was called for charging. Since WHEN do you call charging in that situation?), with a healthy Marshall, I think we would have won. We lost by, what?--4 points? With 2 of those points as a result of an intentional foul (although, why bother, just continue breathing and in THIS game, the foul will come), a healthy Marshall (and a longer-lasting Dreiling or Manning), to me it seems almost certain.*

The same with Arizona. Haas was one of the greatest defensive players in KU's history--better than Vaughn, better than Miles, better than Morningstar (II). Did he ever get burned by anyone (I mean, over a game, everybody gets burned on occasion)? Arizona had three players that burned us. Shut down one of those players and what happens? KU wins. And when I say shut down, I, of course, don't mean shut OUT--Arizona was a good team and those three were awfully good--but Haas would have made their life difficult. Instead of hitting over 50%, they would have hit 36%. The ball would have been stripped one of two times more. They probably would have gotten an extra rebound or two. KU lost by only 3 points. With Haas, they win by 7. Yup, how does a team with two first team All-Americans, plus a number of other talented players (two of the others have had long NBA careers, and Thomas has played some in the NBA), and a great coach to boot, not win a championship? Strange indeed.

*Now, getting past Duke, we would have had a problem with Louisville. We'd already beaten them twice. Clearly we would have been favored, but Louisville was a good team. Beating a good team 3 times ain't easy (though Duke managed it against us). Sure would have liked to have had the opportunity.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 12, 2010:

You are correct, a few changes and KU could have won more. In 2003, what if Wayne Simien were available against Syracuse, and what if Michael Lee's shot wasn't blocked, and KU forced overtime? Would momentum have swung their way just as it did against Memphis? Maybe...

In 1986, KU played zone most of the time against Duke and still got into foul trouble while Duke played man-to-man against KU and no whistles blew, and KU still could have won the game. And, of course, if Marshall hadn't been hurt, it would've been a bonus. With any kind of even distribution of foul calls between the two teams, the 86 team could've won and played Louisville.

In 1991, Roy Williams and KU's players always said they thought they could have beaten UNLV for the title game when they played Duke instead. While I liked those UNLV teams, I thought they were overrated and KU might've beaten them.

If Haase had been healthy in 97, I think KU would have beaten Arizona, but regardless, at least one of the teams with Pierce and LaFrentz should have made a final four.

Strange game, basketball.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on January 12, 2010:

Johnny Crawford!!!! In my note above, I had originally wrote it was hard to tell the difference between Magley and von Moore, but then realized Moore had been gone 3 years, so it wasn't him I was thinking of, but I just could not come up with the name, so I switched to Tony Guy. And I originally had the W-State game Nos. 1-3, but the Duke (86) and Arizona ('97) games were in and of themselves terrible, terrible disappointments. As I noted, they may have been KU's best two teams ever (when viewed strictly from a who would beat who's butt standpoint, while from a historical context, you'd have to list the '52 Hawks as best), so to have them fall before even reaching the finals--and each the result of an injury (Archie Manning in '86, by years end, a fantastic player who could shoot, make explosive drives to the hoop, and was a rebounding phenom, blowing out his knee in the first half; and of course Haas in '97, a tough-minded sparkplug who was our best defender--was probably the best defensive guard in the nation--until his injury before the Arizona game in '97).

Hmm. Just a few little changes here and there, and KU's NCAA championships might have been much more numerous. For instance, KU not having an off game against K-State in the post-season tourney in '78 (see my first comment under Michael Lickteig's hub, "Kansas Jayhawks Men’s Basketball 2010—the Deepest Team Ever?" for more about that team), Marshall and Haas putting off their injuries until after the season, Jo Jo White NOT being called for stepping on the line in the Texas Western game of '66, Robish NOT being called for a nonexistent travel against UCLA in '71, Ku hitting one more shot in their one-point loss to Indiana in the finals in '53, Duke MISSING a few of their difficult, highly contested shots in the finals of '91, Collison NOT forgetting how to shoot free throws in the finals against Syracuse in '03, Phog Allen being allowed to continue coaching for KU in '57 (there was a ridiculous state-mandated retirement @ 65 back then) which almost certainly would have resulted in NCAA championships in '57 and '58 (and maybe '59 as well as Chamberlain might have stuck around another year), Ted Owens NOT being fired, which would have made the '84 team one of the best in KU history (with a possible championship—though, of course, that would have meant that Manning almost certainly would have gone to North Carolina, so who knows what kind of team we would have had between 85 and 88). There are other things I could cite, like some recruits that were near misses (like Bowie and Ralph Sampson, and Leonard Gray leaving). All 'n all, it's easy to see how KU could have had several more championships under its belt. I don't see us, even under the most favorable sun of an alternate universe catching UCLA for most titles ever, but third place (presently, Indiana and North Carolina are tied with 5 wins) could have easily been obtained, and even Kentucky's 7 wins could have been overtaken. It's not that far from actually having happened. Oh well, you wish in one hand and spit in the other and you know which one fills up first.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 12, 2010:

The Wichita State game is one of my worst memories as a Jayhawk fan. Johnny Crawford's multiple goal-tending calls for trapping the ball against the backboard were ridiculous. And, of course, there were all the things you mentioned. It was a tremendously difficult way to end the college career of Darnell Valentine, who deserved a better showcase of his talents than one tournament game as a freshman and three as a senior. In the contemporary tournament setup, KU would have had the advantages of seeding in 1978, and wouldn't have been sent to Los Angeles to play UCLA in a stacked regional. In 81, well--I just wish the game against the Shockers could have gone better.

Like you, I would rank this loss as KU's worst--and next worst--and maybe next worst, also.

Thanks for commenting.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on January 12, 2010:

So, how do YOU feel about that '81 loss to Wichita. Of course, I expect no less than near suicidal despair ;)

Actually, I wouldn't think you'd feel quite as bad about it as I did--what with me having traveled down there to see it first hand. The second half, I moved to excellent seats, not dissimilar to what we used to have at KU, only just to the other side of the basket (under which Booty through that last pass for the Jayhawks). The first half I sat in the stratosphere (it was at the superdome), and I could hardly tell Guy from Magley (for those that don't know, Magley was white, Guy, black, so I was up aways). That team was one of my favorites--not one of the best, though by years end it was darn good--but liked what they turned themselves into, with Housey becoming a pretty good player at the end under Owen's tutelege, and Guy's and Valentine's leadership, and Magley coming on the last part of the season. They were fun to watch.

Well, cheers!

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 11, 2010:

Hey, Tom. I was actually thinking along most of the lines you mentioned here, such as including the K-State win and moving the Oral Roberts game up higher. The Oklahoma and Memphis game were a toss-up--I gave the nod to Oklahoma primarily based on the beauty of Danny Manning's tremendous game. I wish I had the background to go back to 1971, but all I really knew was vague memories and TV broadcasts. I listened to Bud Stallworth's 50 point game the next year on the radio, but I didn't become a true fan until the next year--the team with Marshall Rogers.

I was actually thinking about writing about the ten worst defeats, but thought it might be just too much of a downer. You basically took care of it here, anyway. I might have included the loss to Virgina that made Roy Williams decide everyone had to put on 50 zillion pounds of muscle to keep from getting pushed around any more, and the loss to Purdue (the next year, maybe?) when Big Dog Robinson (not to be confused with the Original Big Dog, Antoine Carr) and Scotty Thurman lit us up for a ton of points.

Well, thanks again. I was thinking of writing about great names and nicknames of KU players at some point. (Nicknames don't include Rich Bailey freaking out on Channel 6 re-broadcasts and starting to call everyone "Goose," sometimes 20 years after their Jayhawk careers ended. I might do an all-transfer in and out team, also.

Well, talk to ya later.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on January 11, 2010:

Of course, that should be "laid over" above. Don't know why one can't see these things when they can still be edited.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on January 11, 2010:

Needless to say, I'd have ranked them a bit differently, but you certainly highlighted the best of the best. I'd've put the Memphis game one, pushed the Oral Roberts game higher, and found a spot for the victory over K-State in the Regional finals of 1988. Mere quibbles. Also, my look would've stretched back further, to include the '71 Hawks.

Now, we need a list of KU's most memorable defeats (since 1971):

No. 1: Wichita State-1981. After beating up on the talent loaded Arizona team (see above), KU played a pretty talented W-State team and lost, even though KU's less renowned front court out played Wichita's with 2 future NBA players. It was generally a nightmare, being beaten by our puny in-state rivals and watching this unhearlded team (only one NBA player in it's ranks--Darnell Valentine), which had finally jelled under Ted Owen's patient coaching, walk off the court prematurely after playing a sub-par game. As if that wasn't bad enough, it turned on preternatural luck, and it was certainly more than controversial. Wichita State's unknown off-guard who averaged less than 4 points a game (if memory serves), hit two long shots up top in the final minutes to nearly seal the deal. In-between those two daggers, Valentine was fouled (as the player who guarded him later admitted) as he drove to the basket, missing the shot . . . with no foul called. THEN, after Wichita's second rainbow shot that hit net-bottom, with only about 3 seconds remaining, Ted Owens set up a brilliant play which worked to perfection . . . except the referees didn't seem to notice. Booty Neal took the ball out of bounds underneath Wichita's basket, and after first appearing as if he was going to throw it in from there, he suddenly bolted to his right, and the player guarding him ran with him--only to run into Darnell Valentine who ran to the baseline just a split second before Booty took off and planted himself to receive a "charge" from the player frantically trying to catch up with the streaking Booty (yes, streaking Booty). The player ran smack into Valentine, knocking him to the floor. Success, right? One point behind, Valentine, KU's all-time leader in trips to the foul line, KU's all-time leader in free throws made, goes to the foul line to sink two for the win. Except . . . no foul called. Booty looked uncomprehendingly at the Ref., but has the presence of mind to call a time out. They set up a traditional play to throw the ball the length of the court. Strangely, no one guards Booty this time. He heaves a perfect 3/4 court pass to KU's sub, "Chopper" Anderson, who catches, turns, and heaves up a prayer that went unanswered. I had planned on staying in New Orleans a few days, but after THAT game, I took the next bus home, got sick on the way and layed over in Jackson, Mississippi.

No. 2: Wichita State-1981

No. 3: Duke-1986 (Tie)

No. 3: Arizona-1997 (86 & 97--best KU teams in history?)

No. 5: UCLA-1978

No. 6: UCLA-1971

No. 7: Duke-1991

No. 8: Syracuse-2003

No. 9: UTEP-1993

No.10: Wichita State-1981

Dishonorable mention: Bucknell-2005, Bradley-2006, UTEP-1993, Kentucky Western-1971 (3rd place game), Rhode Island-1998, Notre Dame-1975, Penn State (Orange Bowl)-1968, Every other NCAA loss.

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