The Arizona Wildcats are nearly two full years late to the party, but that’s OK.
They can make their own fun tonight.
UA will be making its first appearance in Oregon’s splashy 12,364-seat Matthew Knight Arena, since it did not make the Oregon trip last season and played at the old McArthur Court during the 2010-11 season.
But the Wildcats will be the highest-ranked team yet to enter the building, which is expected to have its biggest crowd of the season so far – an event that just might rival the debut of the new place on Jan. 13, 2011.
That night, Oregon benefactor Phil Knight of Nike gave a thankful speech to open the arena, which was named after his son, who died at age 34 in a scuba diving accident. Students and cheerleaders filled the floor while fireworks and lights went off. And the Duck mascot cabled his way down from the rafters on to the floor.
Then the Ducks beat USC 68-62 and, slowly, some complaints filtered out. The new place was comfy but not quite as intimate as Mac Court. Its court had a practically invisible center line, which was changed before last season after it may have cost Creighton a 2011 CBI loss there.
But Oregon has also won 16 straight games at Matt Arena, the 10th longest streak in the country, and is 27-3 there over the past two seasons. The Ducks also now enjoy a new practice gym, weight-training facilities and other state-of-the-art features.
They have no reason to complain.
“It’s a nice building,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “It’s a college arena, so there’s no skyboxes or anything like that, a nice 13,000-seat arena. Everybody’s pretty close and it’s very well thought-out, very functional.”
But can it give Oregon a better homecourt advantage tonight than its predecessor?
Here are arguments either way:
MATT IS BETTER BECAUSE…
There’s more than 3,000 extra seats at the new place, and architects designed the steeply inclining seats to have noise project on the court as much as possible, like Mac Court.
Oregon also kept a strip of student seats available on the sideline floor facing the benches in addition to the larger student area behind one basket, so players can’t ignore their presence.
What’s more, the sightlines are good from every seat, there’s 200 TVs inside the arena, 50 concession stands with folksy names such as “Uncle Phil’s (for Knight, of course), and four times as many bathrooms as Mac Court had. So everyone should be more comfortable while rooting on the Ducks.
Opponents can get sensory overload. On top of the court is a humongous “KnightVision” video board, which is a full 60,000 pounds and three stories tall. Its screen has the largest and highest resolution of any such board in college. There’s also LCD screens that flash ads, plenty of bright lights, and an ear-piercing sound system in the arena.
Opponents can also get disoriented.
Oregon’s unique floor is framed with trees and the words “Deep in the Woods,” a nod to both Oregon’s physical surroundings and its 1939 “Tall Firs” NCAA title team.
At midcourt, there’s a giant “O” logo and the Japanese-inspired “MATT” logo, though the midcourt line was widened after the 2011 CBI.
In the final game of that tournament, Ducks forward E.J. Singler (E.J. Singler) made the winning shot after Creighton’s Antoine Young (Antoine Young) was whistled for an over-and-back violation when he attempted to dribble some time off the clock and went back over what some called a barely visible line.
Greg McDermott (Greg McDermott), who was ironically in his first year of succeeding Altman as Creighton’s head coach, said “that’s a tough way to lose a game” and the line was improved before the next season.
MAC WAS BETTER BECAUSE…
While architects and engineers tried every avenue possible to replicate Mac Court’s noise level, they simply couldn’t quite duplicate its unique fans-on-top-of-you feeling because in the old place, well, fans literally were on top of the court.
Not only were their students courtside within touching distance of players who stood on the sideline but the second and third decks extended far out, so nobody was that far from the court.
At Matt, fans are close, but just not that close.
“I don’t think it’s as loud as Mac Court was,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson (Craig Robinson) said.
Matt Knight Arena doesn’t sell out.
While 9,087-seat McArthur Court could be quiet for nonconference games or just about anytime the Ducks having a rough season, it only took 8,000 fans to give it a fullish atmosphere.
Knight Arena needs 50 percent more fans for the same effect. And it has only sold out three times, all within its first two months of opening, though it did attract five-figure crowds for all its Pac-12 games last season. Its biggest crowd so far this season was 9,137 for Vanderbilt, a crowd that would have spilled out of Mac Court but left more than 3,000 seats open at Matthew Knight Arena.
The lackluster crowds prompted Oregon to cut some season ticket prices in half this season, to as low as $150 (by contrast, UA’s season tickets start at $399.) Tickets for Thursday’s Oregon-UA game range from $16-53, with its cheapest seats $4 less than UA charges for standard games and $19 less than UA charges for premium games.
The Wildcats are willing to roll with it.
Didn’t sound like the Matt Knight on-court environment was at the top of UA coach Sean Miller’s concerns when he was asked about it this week.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to tell my guys not to run where the trees are. They’re all over the place.”
It’s the players, ultimately, that are what Miller is most concerned about. And the Ducks have some good ones, he said.
“I think playing Oregon at Oregon will be one of the most difficult games in our conference,” Miller said. “Not just for us but any team that plays them.”