The inaugural game at Matthew Knight Arena was one for the ages. In true Oregon fashion, Phil Knight spared no expense as he unveiled his prized $200 million basketball facility. With opening ceremonies that resembled that of the Olympics and a star-studded crowd that included Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and of course, Phil Knight, Matthew Knight Arena was rocking before the players took the court. However, the real show was the blossoming Duck basketball team (8-9, 1-4 P10) defeated the Trojans of USC 68-62.
From the opening tip-off Oregon played with a noticeable surge of energy, feeding off of the cheers from the raucous crowd. Freshman point guard Johnathan Loyd credited the fans as the reason for the team's passionate performance.
"The crowd was into it, our fans deserve it" Loyd explain.
Matthew Knight Arena was thumping at full throttle and the Ducks matched the crowd's enthusiasm as they jumped out to an early 10-6 lead following back-to-back 3s by Tyrone Nared and Garrett Sim.
Malcolm Armstead took a brilliant north-south drive into the lane, which resulted in a layup giving Oregon a 17-9 lead with 9:47 left in the 1st half.
USC battled back with Donte Smith leading the charge, knotting the score at 21 with 3 minutes left in the first half. At this point, USC's talented forward Nikola Vucevic was kept in check by a much smaller Oregon front line.
The play of the game came at the end of the first half when Tyrone Nared recorded an incredible tip jam as time expired bringing the crowd and the Oregon bench to its feet.
In the 2nd half USC looked to improve on their weak beginning but the Ducks were able to keep pace as they too raised their game. Oregon utilized their zone defense to counteract USC's size advantage and pushed the floor in order to catch the Trojans out of position. Altman had a plan for these Trojan and he executed it with extreme precision.
For most of the second half Oregon and USC traded baskets, Oregon was unwilling to surrender their first game in the pristine Matthew Knight Arena. USC was able to cut their deficit to 4 at one point but that would be their slimmest margin as the Ducks held on to win 68-62.
"We started with our D, it usually starts on offense" commented Loyd.
Defense was the key to this Oregon victory, the Ducks out rebounded the towering Trojans 34-31 which is remarkable considering the Ducks were without senior forward Joevan Catron who was held out with an injury. Oregon also won the turnover battle, forcing 14 while surrendering just 12.
While the players pointed to their defense, the offense showed up in a big way. Despite their season long struggle, the Ducks have shot the ball well of late and that theme continued tonight as the Ducks went 24-56 (42.9%) including 7-21 (33.3%) from behind the arc.
Freshman Johnathan Loyd led all scorers with 12 points and he also collected 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Loyd has been the recent starter at point guard and he is proving that he is capable of running Coach Altman's offense.
EJ Singler had a rough night shooting from the field (1-7) but he was able to do damage at the free throw line as he picked up 7 points from the charity stripe. Singler also hauled in 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
Tyrone Nared continued to blossom; shooting an efficient 4-9 (2-4) from the field, grabbing 3 boards, 1 block and 1 steal. Coach Dana Altman pointed to Nared's athleticism and continued familiarity with the offensive system as the reason for his success.
"Tyrone really stepped up, he's come along, his athleticism really gives us a boost, he really let that athleticism show tonight" said Altman.
Tonight was the debut of Matthew Knight Arena and possibly the debut of a new, confident Duck team. The Ducks will host UCLA this Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena at 2:00pm.