The Win Over Oklahoma: 1992 – From the Bird’s Nest
After clinching the Sun Belt Tournament Championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, Southwestern Louisiana had to wait a full week before finding out their destination for the regional, their seeding and their first round opponent.
For the Cajuns, it was pretty much business as usual. For the fans, it was an eternity.
Finally on Selection Sunday the team and supporters gathered to watch the CBS telecast of the unveiling of the Field of 64.
When the Cajuns name came up a cheer went up. Cajun coach Marty Fletcher pointed at the screen. He smiled. Broadly.
The opponent and the coach were familiar names.
It was Billy Tubbs and the Oklahoma Sooners. The Cajuns were seeded #13 and would play the second game of the day session in Tempe, AZ on the campus of Arizona State. The two teams had met the year before, with the Cajuns taking a 103-101 win in Norman on the Sooners' home court. Marcus Stokes hit a baseline jumper with three seconds remaining for the game winner.
Fletcher knew the Sooners. So did his players. And, he knew the team would have plenty of confidence going into the game, having already proven they could win against the team that tied for second in the Big 8 Conference.
The game was slated for Friday, March 20. I was a year away from joining the radio broadcast with Don Allen, but I was sent out west to cover it for KPEL, which was a few months away from regaining the broadcast rights for Cajuns' sports.
I got to the arena around halftime of the first game between #5 DePaul and #12 New Mexico State. Both teams were pretty impressive and I took the Aggies upset win to be an omen for the day.
Coach Fletcher, who had resurrected his "Good Day Sunshine" tie for the conference tournament, wore it again. Same sport coat, same trousers, same shirt.
If the Cajuns were nervous, they didn't show it, scoring the first six points of the game as Oklahoma's Terry Evans picked up a pair of fouls in the first 65 seconds of the game. A Stokes dunk and a Carroll Boudreaux jumper increased USL's lead to 10-4. Follwing the media time out, Tony Moore, who entered the game when Todd Hill picked up his second foul, hit an old fashioned three point play a ten footer and then bombed in a 25 footer from the right side and the Cajuns had a 22-15 lead.
It was 25-17 after a long three pointer by Michael Allen, but Oklahoma then went on a run of 11-2 to take its first lead, 28-27 with 10:18 remaining in the first half. USL regained the lead 32-28 after a Byron Starks three point play, but OU answered with a 13-2 run fueled by Jeff Webster and Brent Price to take the biggest lead of the game for the Sooners, 41-34 with 4:31 to go.
The Cajuns regrouped during the media time out. Allen hit a triple to cut the lead to four. After the teams traded baskets, a three point play by Cedric Mackyeon got the Cajuns within one with :21 left and after Evans picked up his third foul on a charge, Allen hit a 25 footer from the left wing and the Cajuns regained the lead 45-43 at the half.
Starks led the Cajuns in scoring, hitting 5-7 from the field and scoring eleven points. Moore scored ten in under seven minutes of action and Allen hit three of six from beyond the arc. Eric Mouton had five assists. The Cajuns shot 53.1 percent in the first half.
Oklahoma was led by Damon Patterson and Derrick Gallien with eleven points each and shot 47 percent from the field and were a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. Webster and Evans each had three personal fouls.
Then came one of the most tense twenty minutes in Cajuns' basketball history.
In the first 9:16 of the second half alone, the game was tied on three different occasions.
There were also twelve...that's right...twelve lead changes.
A Michael Allen running one hander gave the Cajuns a 64-63 lead with 10:44 left for the final lead change of the game.
But although the Cajuns never trailed again in the game, the intensity inside the arena, on media row and on the court just grew. Because the Cajuns never could get a comfortable lead.
After Webster hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 64, Mackyeon got a tip in and Moore hit a jumper to give the Cajuns a four point lead. But Webster and Patterson hit back to back shots for the fifth tie of the second half, 70-70.
Then came the biggest shot of the game.
USL called time out at the five minute mark. Oklahoma came out playing tough defense and the Cajuns couldn't get a good shot. With the 45 second clock winding down, a pass found Moore on the right wing and with a hand in his face and the clock about to expire, the sophomore sharpshooter drilled a 24 footer to give the Cajuns a 73-70 lead.
It was at that point the play by play guy bruised my arm.
As the shot went in, Don Allen reached out and grabbed my arm and squeezed so hard it left a bruise. It was his way of saying, "holy (fill in the blank), we're going to win this thing."
Mackyeon hit a follow shot to make it a five point lead with 3:59 left. It would be the Cajuns' last field goal of the game.
Both teams missed opportunities over the next 90 seconds before the Sooners scored five straight points to tie the game.
The Cajuns were fouled on the next three possessions. Hill made a pair, then Stokes and Mackyeon each made both ends of a one and one. Meanwhile the defense got a couple of stops and the Cajuns had their biggest lead of the second half, 81-75 with 1:12 left.
Oklahoma scored four straight points to get within two with :47 to go. Allen hit both ends of a one and one but Evans made a pair of freebies to cut the lead to two once again. Mouton made a pair of free throws with :09 left to make it a two possession game, but Webster hit a 16 footer to bring the Sooners within two once again. The Cajuns inbounded the ball after a time out and Mouton was fouled.
There were 2.3 seconds remaining.
Mouton had been put to the line in overtime against UNO and made both free throws. He was being counted on again. And, again, he calmly made both.
And it was over.
USL didn't have a field goal in the final 3:59. But the Cajuns, who weren't a particularly good free throw shooting team, made 12-12 from the line down the stretch to seal the win after starting 8-13 from the line.
Starks led the way with 21 points on 10-14 shooting. Moore added 15 in just 18 minutes. Allen chipped in 13 while Mackyeon had ten. Webster led five Sooners in double figures with 23 points before fouling out in the final seconds.
The final was 87-83. The Cajuns celebrated on the court. Marty Fletcher blew kisses to the crowd.
And that tie looked beautiful.