OU men's basketball: Looking back at Oklahoma's biggest NCAA Tournament wins

OU's Buddy Hield celebrates after cutting a piece of net off the hoop after the Sooners' beat Oregon to advancing to the Final Four, Saturday, Mar. 26, 2016, at the Honda Center in Anaheim cali.. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Oklahoma’s enjoyed its fair share of March Madness runs that make it one of college basketball’s most successful programs.

The Sooners have made the NCAA Tournament 32 times, making the Sweet 16 on 10 occasions, the Elite Eight nine times, the Final Four five times and the national championship game twice.

From their first postseason in 1939 to current head coach Lon Kruger guiding the program consistently to the dance, the Sooners have plenty of big wins; and perhaps, could’ve added another this weekend if they still were standing in the canceled NCAA Tournament.

Here are five of the biggest NCAA Tournament wins in OU’s history:

1979 Second Round — No. 5 Oklahoma 90, No. 4 Texas 76: OU lost to Holy Cross in its first national championship game appearance in 1947. It then waited 32 years to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Enter the ’79 Sooners, featuring the likes of Big Eight Player of the Year John McCullough and future Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

OU won its first-ever Big Eight tournament championship that season and earned a second-round date with Texas when the tournament field consisted of just 40 teams and the bottom four seeds in the four regions battled for a spot in the Round of 32.

The fifth-seeded Sooners rolled past the Longhorns, shooting 62.1 percent from the field while Texas shot 39.2 percent.

Raymond Whitley, who blossomed late in the postseason, led OU with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. McCullough poured in 17 points and 11 assists and Aaron Curry posted 14 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The Sooners’ long-awaited NCAA Tournament return would end the next round when they faced Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores.

1988 Final Four — No. 1 Oklahoma 86, No. 1 Arizona 78: The top-seeded Sooners stormed through the first four rounds of the ’88 NCAA Tournament before bumping into fellow one-seed Arizona in the Final Four.

The Sooners won by their smallest margin of the tournament, which still wasn’t that close, to make it back to the national championship game for the first time since 1947.

OU held off a 31-point performance from future San Antonio Spurs star Sean Elliott. It also kept Steve Kerr, now coach of the Golden State Warriors, to six points on 2-of-13 shooting.

OU led 39-27 after one half and held a 76-67 advantage with two minutes remaining, despite OU’s star big man Stacey King not on the floor for much of the second half due to foul trouble.

The Wildcats resorted to intentionally fouling OU down the stretch but could never recover from the deficit.

"The better team won," then-Arizona coach Lute Olson said during a postgame interview with CBS. "There's no question."

Both King and Harvey Grant scored 21 points for the Sooners, while Ricky Grace tabbed 13, Andre Wiley posted 11 and Dave Sieger notched 10.

1999 Round of 64 — No. 13 Oklahoma 61, No. 4 Arizona 60: Kelvin Sampson failed to get the Sooners out of the first round his first four years as OU’s head coach between 1995-98.

Oddly enough, Sampson finally got over the hump with the lowest-seeded Sooner team in program history.

OU secured a No. 13 seed in 1999, faced Arizona in the opening round and won in dramatic fashion.

The Sooners trailed the Wildcats by four points with a minute to go after Arizona's A.J. Bramlett missed a pair of free throws.

OU went to the other end and Sooner star Eduardo Najera knocked down a corner 3-pointer that prompted an Arizona timeout. The Wildcats gave the ball right back to the Sooners after Michael Wright stepped on the baseline on the ensuing inbounds pass.

Najera then corralled a missed shot by Eric Martin on OU’s next possession and tossed up a go-ahead bucket. The shot wouldn’t fall but Ryan Humphrey was in the vicinity for a putback to give the Sooners a 61-60 lead with 21 seconds left.

The Sooners stopped the Wildcats on their final possession to advance to the Round of 32, where they beat North Carolina-Charlotte to make Sampson’s first Sweet 16 appearance.

• 2002 Elite Eight — No. 2 Oklahoma 81, No. 12 Missouri 75: A Cinderella story stood in the way of OU’s first trip back to the Final Four since 1988.

The Sooners, a No. 2 seed, faced Missouri, a No. 12 seed, in a Big 12-flavored Elite Eight game in San Jose, California.

The Sooners had mostly run through their first three opponents, beating Illinois-Chicago and Xavier to make the Sweet 16. It then beat Arizona in to advance to the Elite Eight.

Against Missouri, OU never could breathe easy but the Tigers never pushed ahead.

Missouri’s Rickey Paulding and Kareem Rush did all they could to lift their squad, but a balanced OU squad was too much to overcome.

Hollis Price led the way with 18 points. Ebi Ere had 17. Aaron McGhee finished with 15. And Quannas White scored 12.

The Sooners fought off the Tigers to advance to the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta, where they lost to Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana.

2016 Elite Eight — No. 2 Oklahoma 80, No. 1 Oregon 68: OU’s run through March came to a screeching halt in the 2016 Final Four, but the game just before it indicated this OU team might be the one to finally win it all.

OU senior guard Buddy Hield was magnificent in OU’s first trip to the Elite Eight since Blake Griffin took the Sooners there in 2009.

He scored 37 points, knocking down 8-of-13 shots from the 3-point line.

Top-seeded Oregon didn’t look like it stood much of a chance with the Sooners ahead 48-30 by halftime. And the Sooners, a No. 2 seed, would soon be cutting down the nets at Honda Center in Anaheim, California, after punching their ticket to Houston.

Hall of Fame coach and ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale had strong words following Hield’s electric performance.

“He better be national player of the year or they’ll be an investigation,” he said on ESPN.

Hield would win both the Naismith College Player of the Year award and John R. Wooden Award after placing OU’s men’s basketball program back into the national spotlight.

Joe Buettner

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Follow me @ByJoeBuettner

jbuettner@normantranscript.com

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