On This Date April 4. 1988: Danny and the Miracles

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Kansas, who struggled at times in the regular season, completes a remarkable run through the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament beating Oklahoma 83-79 to win the National Championship at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The Jayhawks were carried to the championship behind the play of Danny Manning, who scored 31 points with 18 rebounds in the final to earn the Most Outstanding Player award in the Final Four.

It had been an uneven season for the University of Kansas coached by Larry Brown, as they dropped out of the Top 25 while in the middle of a four-game losing streak in January. The Jayhawks, who posted a 20-10 record in the regular season, finished 9-5 in conference play and were eliminated in the semifinals of the Big 8 Tournament without showing any signs of a team about to go on a long title run as were a six seed in the Midwest Region. In the NCAA Tournament, Kansas started with an 85-722 win over #11 Xavier in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Jayhawks would reach the Sweet 16 by beating #14 Murray State 61-58. The Racers had upset #3 NC State 78-75 in the first round. In the Regional Semifinals at the Pontiac Silverdome, Kansas defeated #7 Vanderbilt to reach the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks would find a familiar foe in the Midwest Regional Finals as they were matched up against #4 Kansas State. It was the fourth time the Jayhawks played their rivals from the Sunflower State. The two teams split their games in the regular season, with each team winning on the other’s home floor. In the Big 8 Tournament, it was the Wildcats beating up the Jayhawks 69-54. This time it would be all Kansas, as the Jayhawks won 71-58 to advance to the Final Four. 

 For Oklahoma, coached by Billy Tubbs, it was a dream season, as the Sooners were the class of the Big 8 Conference, winning both the regular season and tournament championships. With a 30-3 record, the Sooners were the top seed in the Southeast Region. Like a machine, Oklahoma rolled through the early rounds in Atlanta, beating #16 Chatanooga 94-66 and #8 Auburn 107-87. In the Sweet 16, the Sooners defeated #5 Louisville 1089-98, before beating #6 Villanova 78-59 in the Southeast Region Final in Birmingham, as Arizona, the number one seed in the West and Duke the second seed in the East, completed the Final Four.

The Final Four was extra special at Kemper Arena in Kansas City as the NCAA Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the NCAA Tournament. The games would feel like home to the Kansas Jayhawks, as they were just 60 miles from their campus in Lawrence. In the semifinals, Kansas would face Duke, a team they lost to at home 74-70 in the regular season. The Blue Devils had reached the Final Four by beating Temple, who was the top-ranked team in the country 63-53 at the New Jersey Meadowlands. The Jayhawks were in control of the game early, as Danny Manning led the way with 25 points and ten boards as Kansas reached the final with a 66-59 win. Oklahoma meanwhile beat Arizona 86-78, despite a game-high 31-point effort from Sean Elliott. The Sooners got big efforts from Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant, each scoring 21 points, with Grant also recording ten rebounds.

The National Championship felt like a night in the Big 8, as Kemper Arena was the traditional home of the conference’s tournament. Despite Kansas having a home crowd edge, Oklahoma was an overwhelming favorite after beating the Jayhawks in both regular-season meetings. The first half was a track meet as both teams lit up the scoreboard, with the score deadlocked 50-50 at the half. The game was played tighter in the second half, as Danny Manning took dominated on the boards, adding 18 rebounds to his game-high 31 points. Every time Kansas needed a big play, Manning had the answer leading the Jayhawks to an 83-79 win while earning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award. An eight-point underdog, Kansas’ upset of Oklahoma is the third-largest in the history of the championship game. The team would forever be remembered as “Danny and the Miracles” as their 11 losses were the most ever for a team to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.