USC basketball: O'Neill displeased with playing at Oregon on night new arena debuted
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill made it known this week that he was none too happy to play at Oregon on the same night the school debuted its $200-million, state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena.
The Trojans' lost the first game held there to Oregon, 68-62, but O'Neill didn't criticize the nearly 40-minute pre-game ceremony, which included break-dancing, fireworks, several dances from the cheerleaders, a few songs from Oregon's student band and an eight-minute speech from Nike co-founder and Oregon alum Phil Knight, who helped fund the arena that is named for his late son.
"You sit in the locker room for 40 minutes longer than necessary," he said. "I'm not saying that's why we lost. We just played bad."
O'Neill said that waiting put his team at a "competitive disadvantage" and USC did in fact come out slow in that first half and eventually trailed by as many as 20 at one point.
O'Neill said his team could have gone to a practice facility during that time, but didn't because, he said, "you had to go through two halls, (up) two flights (of stairs) and then they were going to have a bunch of people up there anyway."
O'Neill added, "That didn't decide the game. I'm not taking anything away from their win. I just don't think it's the right thing."
O'Neill said he would have rather the arena's opener taken place against a non-conference opponent rather than against a Pacific 10 Conference opponent, and that he would be for that in "any sport," not just basketball.
Like several other Pac-10 coaches, O'Neill also had issues with Oregon's unusual Kilkenny Floor, which drew mixed reviews on opening night, largely from fans who said it caused too much of a glare on television.
But the issue O'Neill had was with the half-court line, which he and others have said is barely visible.
"They got to put a center line on the floor," O'Neill said. "They need to paint something down there because that's going to be hard for officials to deal with and even players."
Oregon Coach Dana Altman, speaking on a conference call Tuesday, said he hasn't personally heard any complaints about seeing the half-court line, which is two thin stripes, but that if there is one, "we can make some kind of adjustment, especially if the officials have any problem with it."
Altman added, "It's tough to see, but it's tough to see on a lot of courts."
Pac-10 spokesman Dave Hirsch said in a text message Wednesday that he could not confirm whether anyone at the Pac-10 has spoken with Oregon officials about making adjustments to its floor.
One of the only coaches to praise the court was UCLA's Ben Howland, who won their first game on it.
"It looks way better in person than it does on camera," Howland said Tuesday. "I mean, when you see it on film, it’s really hard to see the basketball because there’s so much orange and brown in there. And I get the idea what they’re going for, but it’s a little busy in terms of being able to watch a game on television, which most of the people are going to be doing.
"I mean, it holds 12 [thousand]. I think that would be the only thing. Beautiful building. They really did a good job. Every seat in the place is a good seat. The video board … it’s all really well done, tastefully done. The visitors' locker rooms were awesome. They tried to shoot for the stars on that."
Did he find the court distracting?
"No," Howland said. "But watching the game [against USC] when we were preparing for them, it’s hard to follow because everything blends in, especially the ball. You say, ‘Where’s the ball?’ And then SC has like black jerseys on, so it was hard."
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: Kevin O'Neill. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / U.S. Presswire.