Nine video cameras were rolling when Oregon coach Dana Altman made his entrance into media headquarters Thursday night, and the sense of accomplishment was such that I almost expected someone from the group of onlookers to step forward and give him a kiss.
But before anyone could get carried away, Altman did some bookkeeping.
"Jan. 10 is not the high point of our season," he said. "It's just a start."
Yes, the Ducks found another gear Thursday, punching out No. 4 Arizona 70-66, and, true, several hundred giddy spectators rushed the court and danced around as though they had chopped down one of the game's ranking giants.
But a few minutes later, standing alone in a suddenly quiet corridor at Matthew Knight Arena, Arizona coach Sean Miller was neither angry nor apologetic when he said, simply, "Nothing is as good as it seems."
Miller was speaking of Arizona's 14-0 start, not Oregon's soul-shaking victory, but his words work both ways.
If you've been around Pac-12 hoops long enough, you probably remember the night 23 years ago when the Ducks whipped No. 2 Arizona at old Mac Court, and two days later, the Wildcats were taken apart 84-61 at nearby Oregon State, giving Lute Olson a rare 0-2 conference start.
By year's end, Arizona beat the Ducks 84-58, the Beavers 87-60, won the league co-championship and forever planted the seed among their fans that it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
For starters, Arizona didn't play hard enough over 40 minutes to win in a game like this. A lesser team would've gotten blown out.
"Oregon's good," said UA point guard Mark Lyons. "They played harder than us."
Lyons said that Miller was more analytical than angry in the UA locker room, choosing to educate his team on the perils of the Pac-12 road than admonish them for playing without the needed tenacity and purpose in the first half.
This time, unlike last week's great escapes against Colorado and Utah at cozy McKale Center, the Wildcats paid the full price for allowing Oregon to be the aggressor.
Oregon's new arena didn't rock the way old Mac Court used to - the loudest it got all game was when Otis Day and the Knights sang "Shout!" on the video board during a timeout with 8:34 left in the game - but the crowd of 9,544 rocked enough that it inspired the Ducks to play a full pitch above Arizona.
"It was just a different atmosphere out there tonight, and it was all because of the students," said Altman, whose team had difficulty drawing more than 6,000 fans to the 12,364-seat arena because, let's face it, their previous opponents, from Houston Baptist to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, were awful.
"The energy in the arena is the reason college basketball is so hard to win on the road."
On Jan. 10, the Ducks were what Arizona aspires to be: eight players functioning as a unit, playing hard, sharing the ball. If Altman can keep this team together, improving by the week, it has a chance to win the league title, overcoming UCLA and the Wildcats, when it goes to Colorado and Utah to cap conference play in March.
"They're big and old," said Miller, which was his way of saying Oregon's four inside players - Tony Woods, Arsalan Kazemi, Waverly Austin and Carlos Emory - are, at this point, considerably ahead of Arizona freshmen big men Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Oregon's bigs combined for 32 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Arizona's bigs had seven points, 11 rebounds, one block.
Miller said his young players still play as if they are unaware "there's another level" of intensity at which they need to play. "They need to play not in four-minute bursts, but 20-minute bursts," he said.
Oregon's inside rotation is athletic, long and quick, and it has been around the block. Woods played for Wake Forest way back in the 2009 NCAA tournament, in the same subregional in which Arizona beat Utah and Cleveland State to go to the Sweet 16. Talk about old.
Kazemi, a Rice transfer, has played in 109 college games. Emory was the key player as Howard (Minn.) College won the NJCAA national title last year, and Austin, who played for two seasons at a Florida JC, was a first-team NJCAA All-American last year.
"They blocked a lot of shots," said Lyons, who was again Mr. Clutch, the top player on the court with 21 points. "They would feed off the crowd. They just played hard. That's how you win these games."
How good is Oregon? Put it this way: Colorado's Sabatino Chen, who played like Pete Maravich against Arizona last week, wouldn't get on the court for the Ducks.
Before Miller joined his team in the wintry mix outside of Matthew Knight Arena, he reminded his club that the purpose of the season wasn't to go undefeated.
"It doesn't hurt because we're no longer unbeaten," said guard Nick Johnson, "it hurts because we let one slip away because we didn't play well enough defensively. That's a big, red flag. Coach said we're a young group and that we're going to take our lumps, but I don't like taking lumps."
The long Pac-12 road stretches out ahead, with eight more weeks to play. Thursday's loss to the Ducks is just a beginning. For Arizona, it shouldn't be the end.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or email@example.com