The night was March 23, 2007. Early spring in St. Louis, but Oregon’s winter season was very much still in effect. The shots would not stop falling through the hoop. Tajuan Porter buried one after another. Off balance? No problem. In transition? Swish! From 25 feet away? Nothing but net.
3rd seeded Oregon held off 7th seeded, 30-win UNLV to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. It’s the last time you felt good about the program. The last time you felt it really did belong among the nations’ elite. It was seemingly the last time they had hit so many shots.
It took six years, and although it’s still early in the season, the Ducks are back in the top-10 of the college basketball polls. The Associated Press, which polls the media, has Oregon at #10 following a weekend sweep of Washington State and Washington.
Matthew Knight Arena was finally sold out, the Ducks were finally back in the national mix.
“I just found out from my teammates,” guard Johnathan Loyd said following Monday’s practice. “It’s special,” he continued.
The stoic head coach, the man who was hired to make this happen all over again, stepped in to offer us all a reality break.
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Dana Altman said. “But I’d be a lot happier if it was later in the season. Right now in the scope of things it doesn’t mean a thing.”
I would argue it does. In fact, I would argue it means everything. What? You think it’s easy to build a program from the cellar and have it in the top-10 less than three years later? It’s not. You think a record of 18-2 overall, and 7-0 in the Pac-12 conference is to be taken lightly? It’s not. You think UO Athletic officials aren’t watching those ticket sales? They are.
Matthew Knight Arena was built in large part due to a legacy fund. The fund's money, which earns interest in bonds, retires the debt incurred from construction. But the school would like the arena to be a revenue stream.
Without a men’s basketball team doing some winning inside, that would be an impossibility. But now it’s on the Ducks and their head coach to sustain it.
The Bay Area trip is next, and it has not been kind to the Ducks. Not since 1976 has an Oregon team come away from California and Stanford with a perfect 2-0 weekend.
“The seniors are doing a good job of letting us know we’ve got a long way to go,” said Loyd. “This could go by real fast.”
Of course it could. It’s only January. This season will be decided in March. Just like it was six years ago. The last time an Oregon fan could dare to dream big.
“I think the guys are aware of it,” Altman said. “But they’ll have to play real good to keep it.”
But at least they have it now. And whether the coach wants to admit it or not, that means something.