Living in the state that spawned the Fosbury Flop, Oregonians know something about raising the bar.
Is anyone raising the bar faster than Kelly Graves and Scott Rueck?
Watching the Ducks and Beavers in women’s basketball is like watching an epic high jump duel. Every time one does something great, the other jumps a little higher.
This kind of one-upsmanship has made the Civil War a must-see rivalry. A crowd of 12,364 crammed into Matthew Knight Arena to watch the No. 3 Ducks beat the No. 9 Beavers 77-68 Friday night, marking the second women's basketball sellout in the history of the venue.
If recent history is any guide, the Beavers will be back with a vengeance when these teams meet again Monday night in Corvallis. That’s what happens when two programs in the same state dare to dream big and chase the same goals.
“It’s phenomenal,” Graves said. “A state our size, we’re not one of the bigger ones, so to have two elite programs and programs that aren’t going anywhere ... It’s not like we’re just flashes in the pan.
“This is going to be a rivalry that could be among the nation’s best.”
I'd say it already is. No other state has two teams ranked in the top 10, and I can't imagine any state is sending more fans through the turnstiles in this four-day rivalry weekend. That's a remarkable transformation when you think about where this series stood just a few years ago.
The Beavers were 9-21 in Rueck’s first season. Oregon was 4-27 in 2013 under Paul Westhead. You could clear that bar with a Fosbury Hop.
Gradually, OSU improved. The Beavers made the NCAA Tournament in 2014, won the Pac-12 in 2015 and made it to the Final Four in 2016.
After one of Oregon’s 14 straight losses against the Beavers, I remember asking Graves if Oregon State had set the bar for what women’s basketball could be at Oregon.
“We want to be better,” he said.
That’s what a great rivalry sounds like. Instead of swiping at Oregon State's coattails, Graves wanted to be the team on top. The Beavers approach it the same way, which has given this series a spark that other sports would do well to emulate.
In football, the Ducks have dominated the past two Civil Wars to the tune of 124-25. In baseball, the Beavers are throwing national championship parades while the Ducks look for a route back to the postseason.
Women’s basketball is where this rivalry really shines. All you had to do was take a look around Matthew Knight Arena — every seat filled, Mario Cristobal pumping up the Pit Crew, two great teams trading blows — to see why this sport is the hottest ticket in town.
Oregon was a little better than Oregon State on Friday night. The Ducks weren’t as locked in as they were a week ago against Stanford — and really, no team could be — but they got a pick up from the home crowd and rode the adrenaline to a grind-it-out victory.
Every time Oregon tried to pull away, the Beavers had an answer, be it a 3-pointer from Destiny Slocum or a post-up from Joanna Grymek. That’s what great teams do, and it’s been the defining characteristic of this series over the past five years.
Whenever one team noses in front, the other makes a move. The Ducks did that by winning the Pac-12 and advancing to the Elite Eight last season. The group Oregon has now — Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally — is almost a mirror image of the Sydney Wiese-Ruth Hamblin-Jamie Weisner nucleus that led Oregon State to so much success.
This feels like Oregon’s time. The Ducks have all but wrapped up the Pac-12, and they’ll never have a better chance to make the Final Four and win the program’s first national championship.
Oregon State isn’t quite on that level, but the Beavers are darn good. They’ll be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament, and it won’t shock anyone if they give the Ducks all they can handle Monday night.
In a year when the Pac-12 hasn't generated much drama, the Ducks can be glad they have Oregon State to keep things interesting. Everyone needs a sparring partner, and in that sense, these two make a perfect pair.
They keep raising the bar, and now we'll see how much higher it can go.