What is expected to be the showplace arena of the Pacific-10 Conference will host its first game tonight.
But the Washington Huskies won’t be anywhere around.
Southern California will provide the opposition when Oregon opens its new $200 million Matthew Knight Arena.
Meanwhile, the Huskies will be farther down the coast at Stanford, playing in a no-frills, 7,329-seat gym that has proven as unfriendly as it is modest.
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“For us, Maples Pavilion has been a little like a long time ago the Boston Garden was for the Lakers – where they said the leprechaun was knocking balls off the rim and stuff like that,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We’ve had some strange things happen to us at Stanford and have come up short many times.”
From 1994 until 2009, Washington lost 15 consecutive games at Maples. Included were an overtime loss in 2006 and a one-point defeat in 2007.
However, the Huskies broke through in 2009 and then last season made it back-to-back wins in its former house of horrors.
“We were very fortunate to get a win up there last year when they were undefeated (in conference home games) and we went up there and we had not won a road game yet,” Romar said. “ That was our first road win. (Maples is) kind of closed in, everybody’s right on top of you. It’s kind of like a smaller gym; it gets really loud in there. But over the years, they’ve had some pretty good teams, too. So that contributed to it.”
This wasn’t expected to be one of those especially good Stanford teams. The Cardinal had a 14-18 record last season, and this team was picked ninth in the preseason media poll.
However, Stanford has gotten off to a 9-5 start overall, 2-1 in the conference, and is 7-0 on its home floor.
“Stanford is tricky because on one hand they have some young players that are good – Aaron Bright, from (Bellevue), their starting point guard now,” Romar said. “But they also have some older players – Jeremy Green, Josh Owens, Andrew Zimmermann – upperclassmen who play well. They have more size than people think. Put it all together, I think we are going to look to play against a team that maybe is a little better than people think they are.”
Huskies fans will not be able to watch, because Fox Sports Northwest instead will show the USC-Oregon game in its new surroundings.
“When you have a new arena like that it generates some renewed interest,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I think recruits will be drawn to it. The atmosphere at Mac Court was unbelievable, and on gameday it was a great place to play. But the other 330 days when you didn’t have a home game, it left a little bit to be desired.”
But while the new building will provide more comforts, more seats (12,500), a massive replay screen and a distinct court design depicting a tall-firs Oregon forest, only time will tell if it will offer the kind of benefits to the home team provided by the older places like Mac and Maples.
“I think Mac Court was one of the all-time great homecourt advantages, to be honest with you,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said this week. “That’s a tough place to play, right up from the bad locker rooms to the fans being right up on top of you and stuff. So I won’t miss it.
“Time moves on, and they’ve got a brand new arena. They haven’t played in this thing much either, so it’s going to be new for all of us. But I’m sure everybody that has been around the Pac-10 for a while has very fond memories of Mac Court.”
UW will make its Knight Arena debut on Feb. 5.