Trojans get to break in Oregon's new arena

At tipoff Thursday night in Eugene, Ore., USC and Oregon players can gaze down at the most unusual and iconic court in all of college basketball.

And if they gaze up, they'll find the largest and most advanced center-hung scoreboard in all of college athletics.

And all around them, whether from the end lines, sidelines, or the steeply-tiered seats sitting practically on top of the court, more than 12,000 Oregon fans will be at fever pitch as the referees toss the ball up, commencing the opening of the Ducks' gleaming $200-million Matthew Knight Arena.

But as they do, college basketball's second-oldest on-campus arena, McArthur Court, a musty and raucous barn house of a building that for 84 years was the Duck's home, will officially have met its end.

"Mac Court" — as it was known — "was one of the all-time great home-court advantages," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said.

Problem is, for USC, 10-6 overall and 2-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play, and every other Oregon (7-9, 0-4) opponent, the Ducks' 405,000 square-foot arena, named after Oregon alum and Nike co-founder Phil Knight's late son, is modeled after its old one — with a few, minor tweaks.

First, the court: Made of northern hard maple and designed by Nike, it's a brown-and-tan silhouette of a fir tree forest, an homage to the "Tall Firs," the name given to Oregon's 1939 team that won the NCAA title.

"Hands down, it's the most complex court anyone has ever done," said Gary Gray, portable sales manager for Michigan-based Connor Sports Flooring, which built it.

Second, the center-hung, high-definition scoreboard: At 32-feet-by-36-feet and 65,000 pounds, it's the largest in college sports, said Kevin Jones, president of ES&A Sign & Awning Co., which built it. The picture on its four 20-feet-by-12-feet LED monitors is so sharp, he added, "You'll be able to see the sweat beads on players' faces."

Connecting it to the ceiling are two 24-feet-by-26-feet, intersecting steel "O"s, which also have LED monitors.

Wrapped around the tight seating bowl is 660 feet of 3 ½-feet tall video ribbon board. Four "Hustle" video monitors also sit at the corners of the court.

But like "Mac Court," "Matt Court" will be intimate. "Our hope is that it will behave like a living room to Eugene," said Robert Thompson, lead design principal of the Portland firm TVA Architects.

There are no suites, no columns and the student section is in the "end zone," where seats are pitched toward the upper level at 36 degrees, the steepest allowed by building code, said Jon Niemuth of the Kansas City architecture firm Ellerbe Becket. All told, there are about 3,000 more seats than in McArthur Court.

"Our fans are really going to like the atmosphere," Oregon Coach Dana Altman said.

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