There was no Dutch Bros. coffee cup waiting for Kelly Graves when he sat down for his postgame news conference Friday night at the Moda Center.
Didn’t you get the memo? Only NCAA-approved cups are allowed at this tournament.
That bit of enforced uniformity is one of the ways the NCAA makes its tournament sites feel interchangeable. Everyone gets the same court design. The in-game programming doesn’t favor either team. Both bands get to play, sometimes simultaneously.
The goal is to run these games as neutral-site events. Except Friday’s atmosphere wasn’t neutral at all, not to the 11,324 fans who watched Oregon beat No. 6 seed South Dakota State 63-53 in the Sweet 16.
The Moda Center is Oregon’s house for the duration of this four-day regional. That was apparent Friday night, even though a peek behind the scenes revealed something interesting about the people running the tournament.
They’re all Beavers.
Oregon State associate athletic director Steve Fenk was the one in charge of the media room. Inside the Courtside Club was a large orange get-well card for injured Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, courtesy of Beaver Nation.
When Oregon State bid to host this event three years ago, I’m sure the Beavers were hoping their team would be involved. It didn’t work out that way — Oregon State’s season ended with a loss to No. 1 seed Louisville on Friday in Albany, N.Y. — and the Ducks are the ones reaping the rewards.
“We had eyes toward Portland right from the beginning, I’m not going to lie about that,” Graves said. “We knew we’d have to earn it. They weren’t going to just give it to us.”
I brought up the Dutch Bros. cup because, when Oregon beat Oregon State earlier this season, Graves made an off-hand remark about selling out Matthew Knight Arena without having to give away tickets with a cup of coffee.
After the Beavers beat Oregon two days later at a packed Gill Coliseum, someone from Oregon State put the coffee cup on the interview table. It was a great joke, and one of the things you love about a college basketball rivalry.
There were no such shenanigans Friday night. This tournament is a serious statewide event, and Oregonians are embracing it as such. While the crowd was overwhelmingly attired in green, I even saw a few in black and orange applauding as the clock ran down.
The Duck women are the last college basketball team standing in the state of Oregon, which seems appropriate after the season they’ve had. Now we’ll find out if they can ride this homecourt edge all the way to the program’s first Final Four.
To state the semi-obvious, Oregon will need to play better Sunday against top-seeded Mississippi State. They did enough to keep the Jackrabbits at arm’s length, but their offense never clicked the way we’ve seen it all season.
“We just kind of played to hang on,” Graves said.
Oregon’s 63 points were the third-fewest the Ducks have scored this season. They went 4-for-20 from 3-point range and gave up 20 offensive rebounds, a stat that doesn’t bode well with Mississippi State’s physical frontcourt waiting for them Sunday.
Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan wasn’t a factor when these teams played in December. Friday against Arizona State, she scored 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and went 10-for-11 at the foul line.
She got under Arizona State’s skin, too. ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne had to apologize for something one of her players said to McCowan in the handshake line, prompting coaches to separate the players. That should tell you something about how frustrating it was to defend the 6-foot-7 McCowan in the paint.
“She’s one of a kind,” Graves said. “She’s so, so good.”
The Ducks will have to bring their A-game Sunday. I have a feeling they will. They’ve been looking forward to this moment since the buzzer sounded on their Elite Eight loss to Notre Dame last year. Now that it's here, I expect them to respond accordingly.
This feels like their time. And it definitely feels like their place.