Photo by Scott Boldt
Oregon Basketball

Season in Review: Oregon MBB

March 22, 2020
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No. 14 Oregon opened the regular season with a 71-57 win over Fresno State. And things went mostly up – but occasionally down – from there. Which is no surprise, because going into the year, I had a couple of concerns.

Payton Pritchard obviously played brilliantly during last year's Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, looking very much like one of the best players in college basketball. But would he be able to play up to that level consistently this year?

Right away, Pritchard answered the critics against the Bulldogs, tallying 24 points and 7 assists. After that, I started to buy into the hype; you could tell Pritchard was going to be locked in.

A week later, Oregon faced its first real test against a Memphis squad that was one of the most talked-about teams in the country. The 13th-ranked Tigers had assembled a rich coterie of freshman the likes of which we are used to seeing at Kentucky or Duke.

With top NBA prospect James Wiseman still eligible, Memphis kept the game close before Oregon ended up winning 82-74. The victory launched the Ducks up the rankings.

A couple of weeks later, Oregon headed to the Bahamas to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis. I was pumped to watch the first-round matchup against Seton Hall, because it figured to be an absolute war between veteran point guards Myles Powell and Pritchard.

The game absolutely didn’t disappoint. Pritchard had 16 points and 6 assists while Powell had 32 points and 7 threes. It was a wild, back-and-forth contest, but in the end Oregon was 6-0 with two quality wins. But then the Ducks lost the next two games – by a combined 5 points – to then-ranked Gonzaga and North Carolina.

It was awesome seeing Oregon take on Gonzaga, a matchup I’ve been wanting to see for years. I still think the Ducks should make this an annual nonconference rivalry, as those two programs really are the gems of the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon's loss to North Carolina was rough – and it wound up being even more disappointing as the Tarheels struggled through an uncharacteristically awful season. In November, however, they still had Cole Anthony, set to be a top-5 pick in the NBA draft. Anthony had spurned Oregon to go to North Carolina, and it may have been for the better as he was a ball-dominant point guard who would’ve taken touches away from Pritchard.

In mid-December, Oregon headed to Ann Arbor to take on fifth-ranked Michigan in a thriller that was arguably the most enjoyable game of the season. Oregon won in overtime 71-70. Pritchard hit a bucket with just over a minute left in extra time to give Oregon the lead, and the Ducks made a defensive stop as time expired.

The win was massive, because as the Ducks proved all season, it’s so hard to go on the road and win consistently. It put Oregon back into the conversation as a top-10 team.

Oregon started conference play with a tough road loss against Colorado, then bounced back a week later by sweeping the Arizona schools at home. The Arizona game was wild, with Oregon winning in overtime yet again, 74-73.

Will Richardson scored 7 of the 8 points in overtime, including the go-ahead layup with about 15 seconds left. The key win kept the Ducks from falling too far back in the Pac-12 standings.

The overtime games kept coming, with Oregon knocking off Washington 64-61 in Seattle. It was Pritchard’s defining moment of the season, as he hit a step-back 3 with seconds left in overtime to give Oregon the lead. He then marched around the court saying, “This is my city.”

Judging from the number of times that shot was replayed in the coming months, the performance put him on the path to being named Oregon's first-ever first-team all-American.

Over the next month or so, things got a little interesting. The Ducks were winning games at home, then splitting series on the road. N’Faly Dante hurt his knee (Shakur Juiston had been hurt earlier), and C.J. Walker got banged up and missed a few weeks.

Once again, the turning point came against Arizona, this time in Eugene. Oregon was coming off a loss to Arizona State and desperately needed a win to stay in the Pac-12 race.

Oregon came up huge again in a close game, knocking off the Wildcats 73-72. Juiston hit a layup with 1.5 seconds left to give Oregon a season sweep of the young-but-talented Wildcats.

Oregon would go on to win its last three games of the season. And with a little help by USC knocking off UCLA, the Ducks became the outright regular season Pac-12 champions.
It was incredible to see how far they had come; like most Dana Altman teams, they started to get hot at the end of the year.

It was a weird season that failed to consistently mesmerize Oregon fans. The Ducks would flirt with being a top-10 team, then lose inexplicably to mediocre squads like Washington State, Oregon State and Stanford. They were conference champs, but confidence was not through the roof as the (eventually canceled) postseason approached.

Still, it was a great year, with moments I’ll remember for a long time. This team wasn’t the best Altman team we’ve seen, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t one of the most hard-working and resilient.

The Ducks may not have made a Final Four, but with Pritchard on a mission and other guys getting hot towards the end of the year, you knew they were going to go out there and compete with the best teams in the country.

It’s a true shame we couldn't see how this team fared in March. But at least we can know Pritchard and the other seniors went out competing.

 
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