It’s Oregon on a 16-game home winning streak against Arizona, unbeaten 14 games into the season.
It’s the Ducks bidding for a national ranking against the No. 4 Wildcats, the highest-ranked team to visit Matthew Knight Arena in its three seasons of hosting UO basketball.
It’s the second week of the Pac-12 season, but it’s the one time the Ducks are scheduled to play the conference favorite.
“This game is very important for us,” UO senior Arsalan Kazemi said.
Might tonight’s contest even be the biggest game played so far at Matthew Knight Arena?
Oregon junior point guard Johnathan Loyd said that description would fit, “just because it’s the highest-ranked team to come into the building and it’s the start of the Pac-12 and they’re undefeated. To give them their first loss, it would be nice.”
Ever the cautionary voice, UO coach Dana Altman reminded reporters that there have been some other significant games at Matthew Knight, starting with the opening game at the facility two years ago against USC. The Ducks also won the College Basketball Invitational at their new home, and a couple of games in the National Invitation Tournament last season.
“It’s a big game but no bigger than our other eight conference games (at home),” Altman said. “All of ’em are very important.”
Still, it is Arizona, it’s an early showdown in the conference and before today, the highest ranked team to come to Matthew Knight Arena was 20th-ranked Washington two years ago.
“It makes you more motivated,” Kazemi acknowledged.
With a national television audience for a broadcast on ESPN2, and the relatively early tipoff of 6 p.m., this will provide much of the nation its first look at the Ducks, and some of those viewers are likely to be voters in the national polls. Win tonight, and Oregon (12-2 overall, 1-0 in the Pac-12) could make some serious gains on a top 25 ranking.
“We had a chance one time (to be ranked) but we let it slip against UTEP,” Kazemi said of an earlier defeat.
“This is at home, so it’s a huge opportunity for us to play against a ranked team.”
How much does being at home matter? While there isn’t quite the same feeling there was at McArthur Court for a big game, the Ducks are 27-3 in games at Matthew Knight Arena the past two seasons, and haven’t lost at home in almost a year.
“This place can really rock, we’ve just got to pack it,” Loyd said.
Today’s game will be a test of Oregon’s drawing power. As of Tuesday afternoon, about 8,000 tickets had been sold, with the UO students having picked up their entire allotment of tickets. Reserved seats remain available in most sections, priced from $16 to $53.
“Our students are back (in school) and they’ve always been pretty good (supporters), so I hope they’ll be ready to go,” Altman said. “It’ll be nice to have a crowd but we’ve got to play.
“Crowds are always a big part of college basketball, but our job’s in front of us. It doesn’t matter if the crowd’s big or small, we’ve got to bring it.”
The Ducks haven’t had a sellout, listed at 12,364, in two years, and the biggest crowd this season was 9,137 for a November game against Vanderbilt. Since then, the attendance has only once gotten over 6,000 and Oregon’s average attendance of 5,866 ranks seventh in the Pac-12.
“You want your home court to have great electricity, great excitement in the building,” Altman said. “That’s not something you beg for, that you ask for, you just hope it develops.
“It’s not something you’re entitled to, it’s something you have to earn, and we’re still in the process of earning it.”