Pritchard's emotional finale keys Oregon triumph
EUGENE — It was fitting that a player who cut down nets four times as an Oregon high school champion got to cut twine from the rim following the final home game of his Oregon Ducks basketball career.
Payton Pritchard scored 21 of his game-high 29 points in the second half on Saturday as the Ducks beat Stanford 80-67 to stand alone atop the Pac-12.
No. 13 Oregon finished the regular-season 24-7 and the Pac-12 run 13-5.
Appropriately for a season that featured five overtime wins, the title-clinching win didn't come easy. Though Oregon led almost the entire evening, it wasn't until the final minute that the Ducks and the crowd of 10,862 could celebrate.
Pritchard's final points at Matthew Knight Arena were two free throws with 18.2 seconds left. He then left the floor to a standing ovation, waving his appreciation.
"It was kind of an emotional moment for me," Pritchard said. "Everything I've been through here, all the ups and downs and to finish playing here at Matthew Knight on such a high note like that and the crowd the way they responded to me is a real blessing. I'm just very thankful to be a part of this program."
After the game, the Ducks recognized seniors Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston, each one-year Ducks as senior transfers, and Pritchard — who made his 140th consecutive start since coming off the bench for his first four games as a freshman.
Speaking to the crowd postgame, Pritchard thanked the University of Oregon and each of his teammates over four years, saying: "I grew as a person from each and every one of them."
His most emotional thank-yous were to coach Dana Altman for sticking with him even when Pritchard lost confidence in himself during his junior season and to his parents for putting him onto a path for success.
Pritchard, the odds on favorite to win the Pac-12 men's basketball player of the year and a finalist for multiple national player of the year honors, had six rebounds and five assists. He was 8 of 16 from the floor, including 4 of 9 3-pointers.
"I wanted to come back this year and through all my hard work prove a point that I am not only the best point guard in the country, but the best player in the country," Pritchard said. "That's why I came back. And to win championships."
Oregon is the No. 1 seed for next week's conference tournament in Las Vegas, a position that was secure after USC knocked off UCLA on Saturday afternoon. The Ducks will face the winner of a first-round game between Oregon State and Utah.
This is Oregon's third regular-season title in five years and just the seventh in program history. It is the first time since 1945 that the Ducks have clinched a conference title at home.
The men's basketball Pac-12 title follows conference championships in football and women's basketball. Oregon is the first Pac-12 school to achieve that triple and joins Ohio State (three times) as the only Power 5 conference institution to win all three in the same academic year.
The Ducks will play at noon Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament against the 8-9 seeds winner.
"I told the guys, I've coached 40 years and I haven't won that many (championships)," Altman said. "It means a lot to me. I told them, I hope it means a lot to them. The University of Oregon, we haven't cut down the nets that often. Any chance we get (is special), But we'd sure like to keep it going.
"That's three in five years. For us to continue to do that we need to continue to develop players and get good players and have a few stay like Payton and really develop."
Stanford beat Oregon by 10 at Maples Pavilion last month by winning the rebound battle, forcing the Ducks into difficult shots and finding success around the basket.
This time, the Ducks shot 57 percent, outrebounded the Cardinal 28-20 and outscored Stanford 38-26 in the paint.
Mathis made 4 of 6 3-pointers and scored 14 points. Will Richardson scored 12 points and made four steals. Juiston had six points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal.
The Ducks made seven of their 11 steals in the first half and led by as many as 10 points. But Oregon's seven turnovers, seven second-chance points for Stanford and 5-of-7 3-pointers kept the Cardinal within five points at intermission.
As he's done all season, Pritchard came alive when the possessions mattered most. His deep 3-pointer halted a seven-point Stanford run and put Oregon up 60-49. The next points came when he pump-faked at the top of the key and drove for a layup to make the score 62-49.
In addition to sweeping the two basketball titles and football crown, Oregon's teams were unbeaten at home this academic year in the three sports. The men's basketball team finished 17-0 at Matthew Knight Arena.
"Guys really fought through the ups and downs of the year," Altman said, listing injuries that sidelined Juiston, N'Faly Dante, C.J. Walker and most recently Chris Duarte, who is out at least through the Pac-12 tournament.
"The guys fought through all that and stayed together," Altman said. "Payton did a tremendous job. Guys played the roles that we asked them to, which is sometimes hard to do for the really talented guys."
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