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The Best College Basketball Rivalry Right Now Is in Oregon

“How many people can pull in this kind of crowd, this atmosphere two games in a row?” said Destiny Slocum, the Oregon State point guard. “Growing up in Idaho, I couldn’t imagine these would be two of the biggest games of the year.”

Not long ago, it was hard to see this coming at either school — particularly at Oregon State, which fired Coach LaVonda Wagner in 2010 after a last-place conference finish, a raft of player defections and accusations that, according to The Oregonian, Wagner had thrown a chair during a locker room rant and ordered players to attend Weight Watchers sessions.

The Beavers turned to Scott Rueck, who a year before had coached nearby George Fox University to the Division III national championship.

“I heard people say it was the worst job in America,” said Rueck, an Oregon State alumnus. “When I first got here, I’m sitting there with a D3 background, no staff, one scholarship player, three freshmen and a junior college kid coming in, and it’s July 1. Six months later, I’m supposed to be coaching against Stanford. So it was utter chaos.”

Oregon’s circumstances were better — but only marginally.

In 2014, it parted ways with Paul Westhead, a former N.B.A. coach whose contract only required him to live in Eugene for seven months each year, and replaced him with Kelly Graves, who had turned Gonzaga into a perennially ranked program.

“This was a sleeping giant with the facilities, the support for women’s athletics,” Graves said of Oregon. “I had the best deal in college hoops at Gonzaga, and the salary was good, but at some point, I thought, it’s going to be hard to win a national championship there.”

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