The loss of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness got you down? At Heartland College Sports, we get it. We’re down about it too. Well, leading up to the night that would have been the 2020 national championship game, April 6, we will rewind what happened to the Big 12 in March Madness for each year of its existence. Today, we dissect 2003.
THE BIG 12 IN 2003
Once again, the Big 12 Conference would send two teams to the NCAA Final Four. Once again, the Final Four would end in disappointment for the Big 12. But we’ll get there.
After a perfect run through the Big 12 and a trip to the Final Four to end the 2001-02 season, the college basketball world was at the foot of the Kansas Jayhawks. On paper, the Jayhawks’ starting five was lethal, and that was even without the previous year’s leading scorer, Drew Gooden, who left for the NBA a year early. The top five scorers for the Jayhawks in 2002-03 would all reach the NBA — Nick Collison (18.5 ppg), Kirk Hinrich (17.3 ppg), Keith Langford (15.9 ppg), Wayne Simien (14.8 ppg) and Aaron Miles (8.9 ppg). This core of players was considered so good that the Jayhawks were the No. 2 team in the country in the preseason AP Top 25. Three losses in four games in late November and early December dropped the Jayhawks out of the Top 10 (those losses were to North Carolina, Florida and Oregon). But Kansas bounced back in Big 12 play and shot back up the rankings, getting as high as No. 4 before finishing No. 6 in the final poll. Any conversation about the national championship was going to include Kansas, even though the Jayhawks absorbed two losses in league action, to Colorado and Oklahoma. By late February, though, the Jayhawks knew they would have to make an NCAA Tournament run without Simien, who missed the back half of the season with an injury.
Kansas won the regular-season crown for the second straight year, but Texas and Oklahoma pushed the Jayhawks. The Longhorns went 13-3 in the Big 12 and won 26 games overall. The vision of head coach Rick Barnes, now in his fourth year, was starting to come to fruition. Coming off a Sweet 16 appearance the year before, Texas started the season No. 4 in the AP preseason poll, and stayed in the Top 10 for the entire season. The Longhorns were as high as No. 3 late in the regular season, before falling to No. 5 in the final poll. Barnes returned most of his roster from the year before, with guard T.J. Ford (15 ppg, 7.3 apg) taking the reins of the team. Brandon Mouton (14.8 ppg) was consistent, while James Thomas averaged a double-double inside (11.1 ppg, 11 rpg). Brian Boddicker (8.3 ppg) and Royal Ivey (7.9 ppg) were holdovers from the year before as well.
Oklahoma was coming off an appearance in the Final Four, but they finished a game behind Texas in the Big 12 at 12-4. Head coach Kelvin Sampson blended his returning experience, players like Hollis Price (18.0 ppg) and Ebi Ere (12.9 ppg) with a talented freshman forward named Kevin Bookout (9.4 ppg 5.9 rpg). Another freshman, De’Angelo Alexander (7.1 ppg) developed into a solid contributor by season’s end. Like Kansas and Texas, the Sooners remained in the AP Top 25 all season, starting the season at No. 3 and ending the season at No. 3.
Oklahoma State was the only other Big 12 team with 10 or more wins in Big 12 action that season, going 10-6. The Cowboys were coming off a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. For that reason, the Cowboys didn’t start the season in the AP Top 25. But they played their way in by mid-January and got as high as No. 9 before eventually falling out of the poll by season’s end. But head coach Eddie Sutton had great holdover talent in Victor Williams (15.5 ppg), Melvin Sanders (12.9 ppg) and Ivan McFarlin (10.7 ppg). Tony Allen, a future NBA player like Sanders and McFarlin, transferred to OSU and made an immediate impact, scoring 14.4 ppg in his first Big 12 season.
Missouri, coming off its run to the Elite Eight in 2002, and Colorado, slipped into the top half of the league standings at 9-7. Missouri’s run the year before put them on the radar of AP voters, who installed the Tigers at No. 24 to start the season. The Tigers got as high as No. 11 twice, fell out of the poll for most of February and finished No. 24 in the final poll of the season. Colorado, which had missed NCAA Tournament play in the previous two seasons, were renewed under head coach Ricardo Patton. Sophomore David Harrison, who would eventually play in the NBA, was the Buffs’ second-leading scorer with 13.9 ppg, and the 7-footer had a team-leading 8.3 rpg. Michel Morandais was Colorado’s leading scorer at 16.9 ppg.
Texas Tech, in its second season under Bobby Knight, was the best of the rest and the seventh team in the Big 12 to win at least 20 games that year. But Tech finished tied with Texas A&M at 6-10 in league action. Despite the six league wins, A&M put together its best season under head coach Melvin Watkins, going 14-14 overall.
Iowa State was 5-11 in Big 12 action, but finished 17-14 overall under Larry Eustachy, representing a bounce-back of sorts for the program. Baylor finished 14-14 and 5-11 in the Big 12, and if you know your Big 12 basketball history well, you know that bad things were in store for Baylor that summer. But we’ll get to that.
Kansas State (4-12) and Nebraska (3-13) brought up the rear in the Big 12 that season.
The regular-season award winners included Collison (player of the year), Allen (newcomer of the year), Texas A&M’s Antoine Wright (freshman of the year) and Barnes (coach of the year). The All-Big 12 First Team included Collison, Hinrich, Ford, Price and Emmett.
For the first time the Big 12 Tournament ventured outside the bubble of Kansas City and down to the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The tournament’s seeding hardly mattered.
During the quarterfinals No. 2-seed Texas and No. 4-seed Oklahoma State fell. In the semifinals, No. 1-seed Kansas fell to Missouri, while No. 3-seed Oklahoma beat Texas Tech, but needed overtime to beat the No. 7-seed Red Raiders. In the championship game Oklahoma defeated Missouri, 49-47, as the Sooners won their second straight Big 12 Tournament title.
Price was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Oklahoma’s Quannas White, Missouri’s Arthur Johnson, Missouri’s Rickey Paulding and Emmett were selected to the All-Tournament team.
The topsy-turvy tournament didn’t impact the Big 12’s appearances in the NCAA Tournament, as six teams were selected. Oklahoma (No. 1 seed), Texas (No. 1 seed), Kansas (No. 2 seed), Missouri (No. 6 seed), Oklahoma State (No. 6 seed) and Colorado (No. 10 seed) were off to March Madness. And, once again, the Big 12 was a dominant storyline.
Colorado was the only team in the Big 12 to suffer a first-round loss, as No. 7-seed Michigan State defeated the Buffs, 79-64.
The No. 1 seeds made it look easy. Texas burnt UNC-Asheville, 82-61, while Oklahoma pulverized South Carolina State, 71-54. Kansas had to scratch and claw to avoid being a No. 2 seed with an upset, as the Jayhawks slipped by a pesky Utah State team, 64-61. Same went for Missouri, which needed everything it had to beat Southern Illinois, 72-71. Oklahoma State emerged from the first round looking good, beating Penn, 77-63.
The first weekend would mark the end of the road for Missouri and Oklahoma State, and both did it against teams and players that would be heard from later in the tournament. Mizzou fell to Marquette, 101-92, in an overtime classic. Rickey Paulding exploded for 36 points for the Tigers, while Arthur Johnson delivered 28 points and 18 rebounds. But Marquette had some guy named Dwyane Wade, who had 24 points.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, found itself losing to Syracuse, 68-56. Ivan McFarlin led the Cowboys with 14 points. But the Orange were memorable for their incredible freshman forward, Carmelo Anthony, who had 13 points in that game and would get better by the contest during March Madness.
The other three Big 12 teams advanced. Texas beat Purdue by 10 points, 77-67. Oklahoma outlasted Cal, 74-65. And Kansas left nothing to chance with a blistering 108-76 win over Arizona State. Whatever had happened in the first round, it didn’t matter anymore. The Jayhawks were awake.
With all three remaining Big 12 teams in different regionals, the potential existed for the Big 12 to dominate the Final Four. In 1985 the Big East sent three teams to the Final Four — Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova (with Villanova beating Georgetown in the final). No conference had done it since. The Big 12 had a shot. And after the Sweet 16, that shot still existed.
Texas defeated a Big East team, Connecticut, to move on, 82-78. UConn had won a national title in 1999 under Jim Calhoun (and, spoiler alert, would do it again in 2004). But this year the Longhorns got the better of the Huskies. Brandon Mouton led the charge for Texas with 27 points. So did the fans, as Texas had the distinct pleasure of playing its regional games in San Antonio, about an hour from their home in Austin.
Oklahoma drew a bit of luck, as No. 12-seed Butler had Cinderella-ed their way into the Sweet 16. This was not a Brad Stevens-led team, but he was on the bench as an assistant coach. Head coach Todd Lickliter hired Stevens to be his assistant in 2001. The Bulldogs were no match for the Sooners, who won, 65-54.
As for Kansas, the Jayhawks had the tough draw. The Duke Blue Devils were in the way in the Sweet 16. The No. 3-seeded Blue Devils had Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick, Dahntay Jones, Daniel Ewing and Shelden Williams in the starting lineup. But the Jayhawks managed to win the game, 69-65. The game was tied 35-35 at the break, and Kansas got some late baskets to hold off Duke. Nick Collison had an incredible game, scoring 33 points and grabbing 19 rebounds.
Could the Big 12 really pull it off? Remember — Kansas and Oklahoma had been to the Final Four the year before. Both teams had most of their talent back. Texas was fully loaded, too. The draws were tough, but the odds were good.
Let’s start with Texas, which ended up facing Michigan State in the regional final in San Antonio. Remember that MSU ended Colorado’s tournament in the first round. The Spartans were only a couple of years removed from their national title. Tom Izzo was one of the best coaches in the country. But the Spartans proved to be no match for the Longhorns, who won, 85-76. Texas led by five points at the break and never gave it up. T.J. Ford was the catalyst, with 19 points and 10 assists. Brandon Mouton had 16 points and Brad Buckman had 11 points.
The Texas Longhorns were headed to the Final Four for the first time since 1947. Back then, it wasn’t even named the “Final Four.” Texas actually played in the West Regional Final, losing to, of all teams, Oklahoma, by a single point. Holy Cross beat OU in the national title game that year.
Kansas went from facing Duke to facing the No. 1 seed in its region, Arizona. That meant a coaching duel between Roy Williams of Kansas and Lute Olson of Arizona. That Arizona team was stacked, with a starting lineup of Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire and Rick Anderson. A couple of guys named Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams came off the bench.
Kansas countered with its usual lineup, but got an incredible game from Jeff Graves, who scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Kirk Hinrich led with 28 points, while Keith Langford had 13. Kansas would snag a three-point lead in the final 45 seconds of the game and hang on to win, 78-75. The Jayhawks were on their way to their second straight Final Four.
Oklahoma could have made it a three-fer. But it wasn’t to be. Oklahoma ran into a team we’re familiar with by this point, Syracuse. The Orange bested the Sooners, 63-47, robbing the Big 12 of a dominant Final Four. Carmelo Anthony had 20 for Syracuse. De’Angelo Alexander led OU with 14 points. Hollis Price, the senior who had been so instrumental for the Sooners the past two seasons, had an off night, scoring eight points.
In New Orleans, there was potential for an all-Big 12 championship game. Texas was on one side of the bracket and had to figure out Syracuse. On the other, Kansas had drawn Marquette, on a Cinderella quest of sorts led by Dwyane Wade. Marquette had not been to the Final Four since 1977, when Al McGuire led the program to its only national title. Head coach Tom Crean was putting Marquette back on the map.
But Marquette was no match for Kansas. The Jayhawks were up 59-30 at halftime and never took their foot off the gas, winning 94-61. Wade, who would later win multiple NBA titles with the Miami Heat, had a team-high 19 points. But Kansas was special that night. Five players scored in double figures, led by Keith Langford’s 23 points. Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Miles each had 18 points, Michael Lee had 13 points off the bench and Nick Collison had 12 points.
Texas played a high-flying affair with Syracuse, which had already sent home two Big 12 teams. The Texas offense showed up. Brandon Mouton scored 25 points. T.J. Ford had 12 points and 13 assists. Brad Buckman had 14 points and James Thomas had 13 points. Brian Boddicker came off the bench to score 12 points.
But Texas had no answer for Carmelo Anthony. The Syracuse freshman scored 33 points. Gerry McNamara scored 19 points and Hakim Warrick added 18 points, as the Orange won, 95-84.
The national championship game would be a matchup between two long-time head coaches looking for their first national title — Roy Williams of Kansas and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The Big 12 had never had a team in the national title game before, though a national finals appearance was relatively old hat for the Jayhawks. It would be the seventh national championship game for the Jayhawks, but to that point they had only won a pair — 1952 and 1988. Roy Williams had gotten Kansas there once before, in 1991, but the Jayhawks lost to Duke. Syracuse had been to the national title game twice before — in 1987 and 1996. In 1987 Boeheim’s Orange lost to Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers. In 1996 Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats did the honors.
The game was everything it should have been. Syracuse had a nine-point lead at the break, but Kansas roared back. It was destined to be a last-possession game, and it was. Kansas had great games from Nick Collison (19 points), Keith Langford (19 points), Kirk Hinrich (16 points) and Jeff Graves (16 points). Syracuse had its own magic with Gerry McNamara (18 points), Keuth Duany (11 points) and Billy Edelin (12 points).
But Carmelo Anthony had 20 points for the Orange, and as Syracuse built its lead back up in the second half Kansas did all it could to try and get back in the game. Kansas had it trimmed down to two points, 80-78, when Collison fouled out with 24 seconds left. Duany would make one free throw and Kansas had three 3-point attempts to tie in the last seconds, but couldn’t get any of them to fall.
Syracuse would walk away with its first national title. Williams and his Jayhawks would walk away with heartbreak. And there was upheaval on the way in Lawrence.
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