Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Anatomy of a RivalryPosted by Rockne Roll on January 10th, 2013
Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.
Not all conference games are created equal, particularly in a conference where there’s a wide separation between best and worst. And while the Oregon Ducks have been saying that they prepare for every game with the same degree of intensity and focus, one can’t help but think that there might have been a little something extra that went into the preparation for Sunday’s conference opener against a team the Ducks have played 337 times before this one. Because what better way for Oregon to start conference play than the longest running rivalry in college basketball; the Civil War against the Beavers of Oregon State.
The Civil War has all the makings of a classic rivalry: two big schools with big athletic programs in the same conference separated by 40 or so miles of Interstate 5 and a million miles in terms of campus and community culture. Between Corvallis, the small, rural town with its agricultural college turned engineering and forestry nexus, and Eugene, the famed hippie and beatnick mecca with its liberal arts (emphasis on the liberal) focus that is sometimes referred to as UC Eugene, the whole state takes sides based on location, family history, and alumni status.
In terms of comparison, the Civil War closely resembles rivalries like the Back Yard Brawl (West Virginia and Pitt) and the late Border War between Kansas and Missouri, which has roots in the actual United States Civil War. Both are more than just a little cultural in their tone and span across a wide range of sports beyond basketball. And while this inter-school feud often focuses around football, both teams’ recent resurgence on the hardwood has been cause for a more heated contest. Many fans of both the Ducks and the Beavers claim they will support the other school 51 weeks out of the year (the exception being the Civil War football game), but the atmosphere in Gill Coliseum, the Beavers’ home floor, suggested otherwise.
The gym, with its old stacked bleachers and wooden seats in the upper levels serving as stark clash with the glitz and polish of the Ducks’ Matthew Knight Arena, was packed with many in attendance sporting shirts that read “I Hate Your Ducks,” a play on the “I Love My Ducks” shirts that are popular with UO students and supporters. Students sitting behind Oregon’s basket in the second half were issued orange balloons to wave during free throws, but many also brandished harsh words at the visitors. “Hey, 21, no one loves you!” one student repeated over and over to Oregon guard Damyean Dotson, who scored 21 in the game. “Dana, you’re washed up!” another fan hollered at Ducks’ head coach Dana Altman, who hasn’t lost in Gill since taking over the Oregon program. As E.J. Singler stepped to the charity stripe in the second half, the whole arena loudly bellowed “Kyle’s better!” referring to the elder Singler who averaged 18 points per game for Duke’s 2010 national championship squad.
The acrimony extended onto the floor as well. When OSU’s Eric Moreland and Oregon’s Carlos Emory collided and fell along the baseline in the first half, some harsh words were exchanged. Before words were made blows, however, cooler heads prevailed, namely the heads of Singler and OSU’s Roberto Nelson who came in to separate the two. More words were exchanged at the intermission when a Beaver yelled something to the Ducks as they walked to the locker room down by six.
In the second half, however, the Beavers’ didn’t seem to have much to say, either from their mouths or on the scoreboard. The Ducks made a 15-2 run to break the game open at the beginning of the second half, and held off a late Oregon State push to win on the road by a final score of 79-66. “When we come here, they think it’s their state,” Dotson said after the game, his first against the Beavers. “My teammates told me a lot about it and how big it was, it’s a good win to start the conference.” “It was definitely a fun game,” Singler added. “I’ve been in six and it was another fun one, another feisty one.” As for the Beavers, they knew why they had been beaten. “They just outplayed us,” Nelson said. “I think we got a little ahead of ourselves, I just don’t think we didn’t execute as well as they did. They came out with a purpose and played extremely hard. They were really outworking us, we weren’t able to run with them.”
And thus the 338th edition of the oldest rivalry in college basketball came to a close. Being one of the first conference rivalry games of the season, there wasn’t much talk within the community, with many still focused on the Ducks’ football victory in the Fiesta Bowl and the upcoming football national championship that some of the Ducks’ faithful thought their squad should be in. With the game now in the books, the Civil War became civil again, much unlike some of the more memorable Duke-UNC games of days not so long ago that would be talked about for weeks afterward. The two foes will now part ways until nearly the end of the season, when they’ll head to Eugene to settle #339 on February 28.
RTC Correspondent Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) contributed reporting to this article.