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From 1994: Hurricane ruin rivalry with rout

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Feb. 24, 1994.

Memories of a once-great rivalry finally died for me on Wednesday night.

They were murdered, actually, by Tulsa's 38-point rout of Wichita State in a half-empty Levitt Arena.

Whenever Tulsa reeled off a 20-0 run, which seemed to happen all night, I tried to escape deeper into the past.

I would think about Nolan vs. Gene. I'd think about Paul Pressey, Herbert Johnson, Steve Harris, Ricky Ross. I'd think about Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel, Aubrey Sherrod, and Joe Griffin burying a 3-pointer in Tulsa while falling on his rear end in the corner to send a game into a second overtime.

I would think about polka-dotted towels, sell-out crowds, insults, curses, fistfights.

I would think about a time when this game was full of passion and heat.

Obviously, I was going insane.

Psychologists call it "dissociating." I call it "wigging out."

What happened here? Both programs hit rocky times after the good years. Both were down. Heck, Tulsa was even on probation last year, thanks to violations in the school's track program. And now this.

Tulsa has the horses to actually win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it will get in. It has a deep bench and a bright future with some talented sophomores and freshmen. But then, unlike the Shockers, it also has talented seniors to lead the way for the underclassmen.

Tubby Smith, Tulsa's coach, did not use smoke and mirrors to turn the program around. Smith, who left Rick Pitino's staff at Kentucky to take over at Tulsa in 1991, brought in an up-tempo offense and high-pressure defense to replace the slow pace of outgoing coach J.D. Barnett. Then he recruited players who could execute his system, and he also kept some of the top local high school and junior-college prospects at home.

Smith had no returning starters on his first club and only 10 days to recruit.

He did have a couple of players with potential, Gary Collier and Lou Dawkins, who had become frustrated by Barnett's style. Collier was overweight and didn't shoot well. Smith told him to lose weight and he'd shoot better. Today, Collier, who scored 18 points against WSU Wednesday night, is one of the schools top 20 all-time scorers. Collier and Dawkins are seniors who provide solid leadership.

The rest of the Hurricane players are young or new to the program. Tulsa has four juniors, but three have just come in from junior colleges. The rest include five sophomores and two freshmen.

Tulsa was 17-13 in Smith's first season, 15-14 the next, and now it is 18-6 overall, with a Missouri Valley Conference championship looming in its sights. ''The key (to the turnaround in the program) was the fast-tempo, playground style of ball, which we all grew up playing in the parks and schools and gyms," Dawkins said. "We already knew how to play it. And Coach Smith gave us all the freedom to shoot the ball."

Smith has added two of the best prospects in Oklahoma to the club this season: Shea Seals, from Tulsa, who was Oklahoma's high school player of the year, and Kwanza Johnson, who was Oklahoma's top juco player.

Seals, a smooth 6-foot-5 guard who scored 18 points Wednesday night, is reminding a lot of people around the Valley of former Bradley star Hersey Hawkins, who is now in the NBA.

But, said Smith, "Seals has Lou and Gary, who have been here for three years. They can tell him, 'Coach Smith gonna get on your butt.' I think that's what Scott (Thompson, WSU coach) is trying to find here."

As for Wednesday night's blowout of the Shockers, Smith was sympathetic. He remembers when he was at Kentucky and the Wildcats lost by 55 points at Kansas in Pitino's first season.

''You gotta keep the faith," Smith said.

Keep the faith.

Good advice.

And forget the past.

It worked for Tulsa. Asked if this team is trying to restore the tradition to Tulsa basketball that it enjoyed in the last decade, Dawkins shook his head. "We're not even thinking about it. Those days are in the past."

It's like that philosopher said: Those who forget the past may be fortunate enough to repeat it.

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