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Oregon breaks in new arena with 68-62 win over USC

The Trojans fall behind by 20 points, make it close, but eventually lose in the first game at the $200-million Matthew Knight Arena.

January 13, 2011|By Baxter Holmes

Reporting from Eugene, Ore.

Money can buy many things — some even say happiness, if you know where to shop.

But Oregon rarely shops. Rockefeller-rich alum and Nike co-founder Phil Knight often just fits the Ducks' bills, no expense spared.

His latest donation debuted Thursday night, the pristine Matthew Knight Arena — named in honor of his late son — for which he helped pay half of its $200-million cost.

And the Ducks delivered "Uncle Phil" and "Matt Court" a 68-62 win against USC, ending a six-game skid to give Oregon, 8-9 overall, its first win in five Pacific 10 Conference games.

The Trojans (10-7, 2-2) lost all four of their games against the Oregon schools last season, struggling against their zone defenses.

That was the case early against the Ducks, whose six-point halftime lead grew to 20 midway through the second half following a 19-2 run.

And behind a sellout crowd of 12,364, the Ducks didn't give up that lead, even after USC's 17-3 run cut it to five with 4 minutes 37 seconds left.

The dagger stat for USC was points off turnovers: Oregon had a 20-8 edge.

The Ducks entered shooting 40.7% from the field, worst in the Pac-10, and shot 24 for 56 (42.9%) against USC, which shot 22 for 53 (41.5%).

"We didn't play lockdown defense and that's what we're known for," Trojans guard Donte Smith said.

Much was made of the unusual, brown-and-tan court that represents a skyward look through a fir forest clearing — an homage to Oregon's 1939 NCAA title-winning team — and how it would affect the teams.

Well, it bears the words "Deep in the Woods" and for most of the first half, no one could find the basket through the trees.

But following that slow start, which surely upset Ducks football Coach Chip Kelly, sitting courtside three days after his team fell in the Bowl Championship Series title game to Auburn, both teams found a rhythm.

Smith made his first five shots, including three from beyond the arc, scoring 13 first-half points. But he wouldn't score again, missing his final six shots.

Junior forward Nikola Vucevic had11 points and 13 rebounds and freshman guard Maurice Jones scored 12.

The Ducks were led by freshman guard Johnathan Loyd's 12 points.

"They just had an intensity to begin with that we couldn't match," USC forward Alex Stepheson said.

Oregon, sporting new, Nike-designed white jerseys, had three starters questionable because of injuries.

Backups stepped up, though, such as junior guard Garrett Sim (eight points), who scored the first basket on the new court.

"Matt Court" didn't get down to basketball until after a nearly 30-minute pregame ceremony, which began with a video commemorating McArthur Court, the Ducks' home for 84 years until Thursday.

Then, Knight, in a sports coat and jeans, took the microphone and stood at center court, beneath the largest center-hung scoreboard in college athletics, to a roaring ovation.

The crowd grew quiet as he spoke about his son, who died at the age of 34 in a scuba diving accident.

"I've got to believe Matt is looking down, pleased — as my grandmother used to say — pleased as punch," Knight said, "and I'm sure one of the things that makes him happiest is that so many of his friends and family are here."

Following Knight's speech, the Ducks' mascot was lowered from the ceiling as the band played, cheerleaders danced and fireworks were set off.

Students then ran onto the court, and the music and dancing continued until just before the game began.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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