For the first time in a few weeks, the postgame hallways after an Oregon Ducks men's basketball game had a sense of relief.
Various family members from the area greeted players and staff in the tunnels of Wells Fargo Arena. Coaches happily chatted away, other players photobombed interview sessions and there was a general sense of jubilation that came with the Ducks' 76-72 upset win of No. 11 Arizona State.
After losses to Utah and Oregon State in Oregon's first three Pac-12 games, getting a win, against a talented opponent on the road, was huge.
"Any win is a good win for our team. Momentum is always good in basketball," senior MiKyle McIntosh said. "When your team comes together and there's a feeling of togetherness, you feel like you're on top of the world and you can do anything."
It was a far cry from where the Ducks were when they left Corvallis a week ago, with head coach Dana Altman describing various facets of Oregon's play as "embarrassing."
Now, Oregon finally has a good win to put on its resume and the Ducks have at least come up for a breath during what was expected to be a grueling two-week slate of games against the Arizona and Los Angeles schools.
Still, McKale looms.
On Saturday, the Ducks will play 115 miles south of the site of Thursday's win against No. 17 Arizona. And while the Wildcats and Sun Devils have played just about a similar caliber of basketball this season, Wells Fargo Arena on the ASU campus would have a hard time holding McKale Center's towel.
Case in point: Thursday was the first game ASU had played at Wells Fargo this season after the removal of a cement wall in the upper deck opened up about 4,000 more seats. There was a strong crowd for the Oregon game, ASU's biggest of the year, totaling 13,693 in attendance.
Arizona averages 14,271 a game and produces an atmosphere that still makes Roman Sorkin shake his head. He vividly remembers just how raucous McKale can get. The first game he ever played for Oregon was at Arizona in 2015, when a young Ducks team that harbored a couple of freshmen named Bell and Brooks were dismantled 90-56 in the worst loss of the Dana Altman era.
It was quite the time for Sorkin, who scored 13 points in 13 minutes Thursday, to join the team.
"Yeah, that was the first one. That was a long time ago," Sorkin said, chuckling. "That was kind of a shock."
In that game, Oregon's youth was completely outmatched by a strong Arizona team and a hostile crowd that booed and jeered Oregon's every move from tip to final horn. Seven Ducks made their McKale debut that night. That core would grow over the years, eventually knocking off Arizona there to end what was then the nation's longest home winning streak as the Ducks grew and developed.
Three years after Sorkin's debut at Arizona, he'll return as the only Duck on the entire roster who has played at Arizona. And, of course, the Wildcats are decent again.
A preseason national championship favorite, the Wildcats have regrouped from three losses in one November week to win 10 of their last 11 games, including Thursday's 62-53 win over Oregon State. The Wildcats aren't invincible, as seen by last week's loss to a Colorado team that Oregon beat by 14, but they're one of the more experienced and talented teams the Ducks will see this season.
In addition to familiar faces like veteran guards Allonzo Trier (19.6 points per game) and Rawle Alkins (15 ppg), the Ducks will have to contend with two athletic 7-footers in freshman Deandre Ayton (20 ppg, 11.5 rpg) and senior Dusan Ristic (10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Oregon dominated the boards against a guard-heavy ASU lineup, but it'll be a much taller task against the Wildcats.
The Ducks will try to contend with their own "bigs:" Paul White, Kenny Wooten and McIntosh, all 6-foot-9 or less, and Sorkin, at 6-11, off the bench.
"Our big guys are quick," McIntosh said. "Not as tall, but very quick."
While netting one win on this road trip feels like a success for this young Oregon team, pulling another upset on Saturday would do wonders for NCAA Tournament hopes that seemed to fade away after the Civil War loss. Prior to Thursday, the Ducks didn't have a win over a top 50 RPI opponent and were hovering in the 90s themselves. ASU was No. 15 -- now 27 -- and Arizona ranks 24th. If the Ducks can pull off back-to-back road wins over top 25 opponents, it'll surely go straight to the top of the Ducks' tournament resume.
But, of course, that's easier said than done. Sorkin knows. So does Altman.
"We know how tough of a place that is to play," Altman said. "And how talented they are."
This article first appeared on OregonLive.Com