Kevin McKenna, an assistant coach for the Final Four-bound Oregon Ducks, has experienced raucous arenas. He played in the NBA through most of the 1980s and won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982.
He knows loud. And Saturday night at the Sprint Center, where Oregon defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 74-60, qualified as one of those hostile environments. McKenna estimated two-thirds of the arena was filled with screaming fans rooting for the Jayhawks.
“We knew it was going to be loud. We prepared for it, worked more on our hand signals, got away from verbal signals. I think all those things helped us be ready for the challenge,” McKenna said by phone Sunday, during halftime of another Elite Eight game, North Carolina vs. Kentucky. The Tar Heels went on to win and will face Oregon around 7:49 p.m. Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
McKenna watched from the sidelines of the Sprint Center as the Ducks quieted the crowd, holding off a late charge by the Jayhawks to punch their first ticket to the Final Four in almost 80 years. They made their last trip in 1939, in the first year of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and to reach the Final Four is the pinnacle of college basketball,” McKenna said.
To get by an “explosive” KU team, the Ducks also had to overcome what McKenna estimated was 18,000 roaring Jayhawk fans.
“There was a time in the second half when it was getting intense in there,” McKenna said, when KU pulled within six points after being down by double digits throughout much of the second half. “But we made a shot and silenced them.”
McKenna’s family traveled to Kansas City, and they celebrated on the court after the win.
On the plane back to Oregon, McKenna said many of the players, coaches and relatives rewatched the game on phones and computers. His daughter, Megan McKenna, watched Jordan Bell’s athletic first-half sequence in which he dunked on one end and made an athletic block on the defensive end.
“That was a foul,” Megan McKenna heard from behind her. Kevin McKenna said it was Bell, who was watching the game over his daughter’s shoulder. “I got fouled on that dunk.”
“I think our guys are on a mission,” McKenna said. And against No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Final Four, he likes the third-seeded Ducks’ chances at another upset. “I think our guys are ready.”
For disappointed KU fans, next season likely can’t come soon enough.