NCAA Basketball Tournament Returning to Tulsa

Contributing Writer

(Left) ADRIAN DANTLEY: The Notre Dame star played here in 1975 when Louisville won the tournament.(Middle) RICHARD FUQUA: The ORU Hall of Fame player almost led his team to a win over Kansas in 1974, which would have resulted in a trip to the Final Four.(Right)WAYMAN TISDALE: The late OU star and Tulsan appeared in the 1985 tournament, which also featured Karl Malone of Louisiana Tech.

The basketball tournament is coming back to Tulsa in March for the first time in 25 years, with the University of Tulsa serving as the host school. Excitement is expected, but the six local games will have to be pretty high on the excitement barometer to match some of the truly amazing history produced by their predecessors.

Tulsa hosted tournament games five times, all at the Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University, between 1974 and 1985. The reasons for the five appearances (1974, 75, 78, 82, and 85) in that span and the absence since that time are easily explained.

When the Mabee Center opened in 1972, it was immediately obvious that it was one of the deluxe basketball venues in the country and its seating capacity of 11,000 was large for the era. But, by the mid-1980s, the tournament was on its way to becoming the billion-dollar extravaganza of today and arenas needed 15,000 or more seats to be seriously considered as tournament sites.

The 1974 tournament games are among the most memorable, particularly the Midwest Regional final when Kansas rallied in the final two minutes to defeat what was probably Ken Trickey’s most talented team, 93-90. That field also featured Creighton and a young head coach named Eddie Sutton, whose first head coaching job was at Tulsa Central High School in the 1960s. That was the first of four different schools (Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State later joining the list) that Sutton would lead into the tournament. One of Creighton’s best players was Ralph Bobik whose son Daniel played on OSU’s 2004 final four team which, of course, was coached by Eddie Sutton.

No local teams played here in the 1975 tournament games but the quality was very high, including one of the nation’s premier scorers, Adrian Dantley of Notre Dame. The class of the field was Louisville which lost to , 75-74, in the semifinals of the final four. The Bruins then went on to win the finals and become the last championship team of legendary coach John Wooden, who retired after that game.

Louisville and Notre Dame were back in Tulsa in the 1978 tournament and the Irish were superior, ultimately advancing to the final four. But the big story locally was who wasn’t here, namely Arkansas with its fabulous “triplets,” Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, and Marvin Delph. That team, coached by (who else) Eddie Sutton, advanced to the final four and ultimately defeated Notre Dame in the third-place game.

The Tulsa Hurricane, resurgent under Nolan Richardson and returning near all the key components of its 1981 championship team, played in the 1982 tournament at Mabee Center and lost its opening game (TU was ranked high enough that it received a bye in the first round) to Houston, 78-74. That was considered a mild upset at the time, but hindsight hints that TU played very well just to stay that close to the Cougars…because that was the first of the Houston’s supertalented teams that would earn the still resonating soubriquet “phi slamma jamma” and become known in basketball history as the best team never to win the tournament. Houston was so talented in 1982 that young freshman Hakeem (then spelled Akeem) Olajuwon came off the bench!

The 1985 games featured two of the very best players in the country, the late Wayman Tisdale, a product of Tulsa Booker T. Washington, of Oklahoma and Karl Malone, who would redefine the power forward position during his fabulous professional career, of Louisiana Tech. Both lived up to their billing in Tulsa but most sensed, accurately, at the time that this was just a preview of the next round in Dallas when Tisdale and Malone would go head to head. OU won that game, 86-84 in overtime. Tisdale finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Malone had 20 points and 16 rebounds.

1985 was the last time the tournament had a stop in Tulsa. Tulsa did not have a suitable venue until the Center, with about 18,000 seats, opened a couple of years ago. That figure, coupled with the BOK’s dazzling décor and up-to-date technological wizardry, quickly put Tulsa back on the list of potential venues.

The tournament will end its 25-year absence from Tulsa with a four-day run from March 17 to March 20. No games will be played March 17 but practice sessions at the that day will be open to the public. Four second-round games will be played on Friday, March 18 and two games on Sunday, March 20. Tickets, a rather reasonable $237 for a package that includes all six games, can be purchased online at

The teams that are assigned to Tulsa won’t be known until Selection Sunday, March 13 when the 68-team field is announced.

Updated 02-21-2011

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