Kelvin Sampson & Porter Moser give OU fans a game worthy of Billy Tubbs

Kelvin Sampson & Porter Moser give OU fans a game worthy of Billy Tubbs

Sampson spent 12 years as the Sooner coach, making 11 NCAA Tournaments. Sampson helped solidify OU’s excellent tradition, which gets overlooked by King Football but remains strong.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 3, 2024, 9:59pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 3, 2024, 9:59pm CST

NORMAN  — Kelvin Sampson emerged from the Lloyd Noble Center tunnel Saturday night, and the OU crowd welcomed him with a roar.

What else did you expect the fans to do? He was surrounded by some quite popular ex-Sooners.

“I’m just glad I was with Hollis (Price) and Quannas (White) and Kellen (Sampson),” Kelvin Sampson said. “How do you not like Hollis and Quannas and Kellen?”

Sampson, 18 years and four days since his final Sooner home game, was referencing his old OU backcourt, plus son and former Sooner, all now part of the staff that has the Houston Cougars ranked No. 1.

That ranking survived the night. Houston beat OU 87-85 on Jamal Shead’s short jumper with 0.4 seconds left, a dramatic end to a wonderfully-played game.

Who would have thought? Porter Moser vs. Kelvin Sampson turns into a game worthy of Billy Tubbs’ or Lon Kruger’s best teams. 

Houston shot 56.7% from the field and committed just five turnovers. OU shot 52.7% with just eight turnovers. What was this? 1987?

The Sooners, who four nights earlier scored 45 total at Iowa State, scored 45 in the first half against the Houston ruffians. The Cougars beat that total, L.J. Cryer’s halftime buzzer-beating 3-pointer making it 48-45. Reminded me of the 50-50 halftime score of OU-Kansas in the 1988 NCAA title game.

Both OU and Houston had five scorers in double digits. The teams combined to make 22 of 44 3-point shots. I’m telling you, when Sampson came down that ramp, he seemed to walk into a time tunnel.

“We couldn’t guard them,” Sampson said. “They couldn’t guard us, either. Whoever had the ball last was going to win.”

That’s not the typical Sampson — or Moser — script. But we’ve seen recent signs that Moser’s Sooners want to, and can, play faster. Heck, a week earlier, OU won a similarly-paced and similarly-emotional Bedlam, 84-82 in Stillwater. And Sampson’s teams don’t always play ugly.

Heck, when Sampson talked about flattening the Houston offense and turning Cryer into a one-on-one machine, the story drifted to the final game in the old Gallagher-Iba Arena, when Sampson did much the same with Nolan Johnson, and OU upset the Cowboys.

“This isn’t a beauty contest where you’re supposed to draw it up and look like Princeton’s offense,” Sampson said. “Name of the game is making baskets. Doesn’t say how.”

It was cool of Sampson to revive a memory from 24 years ago. This was a night about memories.

Sampson spent 12 years as the Sooner coach, making 11 NCAA Tournaments. Sampson helped solidify OU’s excellent tradition, which gets overlooked by King Football but remains strong. 

Get this. Sampson is one of six OU basketball coaches to stay on the job at least 10 years. Only Auburn and Seton Hall (seven each) are in that club.

You could look it up. Kruger (10 years), Sampson (12), Tubbs (14), Hall of Famer Bruce Drake (17), Hugh McDermott (17) and Bennie Owen (13), who doubled as the football coach and built a field that still bears his name.

College basketball interest around here — and lots of places — has dipped since Sampson’s days, but we forget that hoops fever stayed high even after Tubbs. The Sampson years were glory years for Sooner basketball.

And Sampson has the memories to prove it. They soon started pouring out of him.

“Memories,” Sampson said. “At some point, that’s all you have. But the memories I’ll take from here are just amazing. The friends. Not just the basketball people. It’s the friends outside basketball.

“Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways. (Wife) Karen’s best friends are still from our old street over there at The Trails. I see Mike Houck (long-time OU basketball publicist, now in the football job) back there. I remember when he was just a young buck. Stuff like that.”

Sampson revealed that he got a text from softball coach Patty Gasso, saying she had Saturday tickets for Sampson at OU’s brand-new Love’s Field (he passed). Sampson said he hears from Sherri Coale and Bob Stoops.

“Bob texts me about every other game,” Sampson said. “Lots of dear friends.”

It all made you wonder why it took so long to get Sampson back to Norman. This is his 10th Houston season. Makes you lament the Sooners leaving for the Southeastern Conference, ending the OU-Houston rivalry just as it’s getting started.

Of course, if the Sooners weren’t headed out the door, Houston might not have a Big 12 invite, so you can’t live life like that. This is the world that is, so enjoy it. Enjoy a night when Kelvin Sampson returned for an unforgettable game to go with memories to last a lifetime.

Share with your crowd
Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming