Oregon’s new basketball home features a high-definition scoreboard, 6,944 square feet of maple hardwood and an on-court illustration of the view from beneath a forest of fir trees.
One thing hasn’t changed: the fans.
Only now, there are more of them. The Ducks’ $227-million Matthew Knight Arena seats 12,364, an increase of 3,277 over capacity at recently closed McArthur Court.
That’s probably not a good thing for UCLA, which on Saturday afternoon becomes the second visiting team to play on “Matt Court.” Oregon fans have showered opponents with vitriolic chants and toted mean-spirited signs over the years, giving the Ducks one of the biggest home-court advantages in the country.
It’ alleged that a fan once kicked Bill Walton during a game in 1973 after the UCLA center fell into the front row.
Three years ago, Ducks fans took aim at Kevin Love, the former Lake Oswego (Ore.) High standout who had picked UCLA over Oregon even though his father Stan was a former Ducks star. There were signs and chants calling Love “fat” and others featuring more personal insults.
Oregon certainly seemed to get a boost Thursday in the first game played in its new arena, a 68-62 victory over USC that broke a six-game losing streak.
“I’m sure they’ll be equally fired up for us,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Friday. “They want to win every home game in this new building, so we know we’re going into a hornet’s nest. We have to be up to the sense of urgency and the energy level that they’re playing with to win [Saturday], or we won’t.”
Bruins center Joshua Smith has a special countermeasure for Ducks fans: his mother Tracey, who traveled from their hometown of Kent, Wash., to attend the game.
“If they’re saying something about me,” Smith said, “you’ll probably see some little lady yelling at them, talking about, ‘Don’t talk about my son like that.’”
Howland said he expected the renovated Pauley Pavilion to match Oregon’s new arena and USC’s Galen Center, which opened in 2006, as the top venues in the Pacific 10 Conference.
The Bruins will play home games at a site to be determined in 2011-12 before returning to debut a refurbished Pauley Pavilion the following season.
“We’re going to have the Bruin come out of the ceiling in ’12,” Howland quipped, alluding to Oregon’s Duck mascot descending from the top of the arena before the first game at Matthew Knight Arena.
Howland said he would bring Smith off the bench again Saturday to help the big man avoid early foul trouble.
Sophomore forward Brendan Lane started instead of Smith during UCLA’s 62-57 victory over Oregon State on Thursday. Smith did not enter until 4 minutes 25 seconds had elapsed and finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and four fouls in 23 minutes.
“I just think it’s better for him psychologically to not get a foul in the first three minutes of the game,” Howland said.
Howland added that he would also consider using a zone defense on occasion to help Smith avoid fouling out in games when he got into foul trouble.