Payton Pritchard was the first Oregon player to cut a piece of twine from the Matthew Knight Arena rim on Saturday after the Ducks wrapped up their third Pac-12 men's basketball regular-season title in five seasons.
For a program that has won only seven conference titles, that's an impressive run — and it was appropriate that Pritchard was the first Duck up the ladder.
He had some practice with net cutting in high school at West Linn, where he helped the Lions to four state titles. At Oregon, he played for a Final Four team, two regular-season Pac-12 champions and — entering this week — one conference tourney champion.
In his final game at Matthew Knight Arena, Pritchard displayed that championship mettle, scoring 21 of his game-high 29 points in the second half 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. The Ducks play at noon Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at Las Vegas, Nev., against either Oregon State or Utah. That winner will meet USC, Arizona or Washington in Friday's 6 p.m. semifinal. The conference championship game is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
But, in yet another example of the ways the conference works against its best interest, if you don't have the Pac-12 Network, you can't watch the Ducks or Beavers unless they make Saturday's championship game, which will be carried on FS1. Maybe ESPN decided it has seen enough of the Pac-12, but putting eight of 11 conference tournament games on the Pac-12 Network seems counterproductive.
It's not as if the Pac-12 lacked drama this season. Four of Oregon's conference wins came in overtime, and the Ducks' title-clinching win wasn't secure until the final minute.
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 from the crowd of 10,862, 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."
The program is certainly happy Pritchard stuck around for four seasons — an unusual decision in this era, but one that was right for Pritchard. On Monday, he was named the Pac-12 player of the year, and he is considered a national player of the year candidate.
"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."
The statistics are impressive: the only men's basketball player in Pac-12 history to have more than 1,900 points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds, Pritchard scored at least 20 points against 10 of the 11 Pac-12 opponents this season.
Pritchard's place in Ducks lore is as much about commitment as any statistics. Four-year contributors have become a rare treat at Power-5 programs, a state that hurts both the caliber of basketball and the connection between fans and their teams.
That connection also was strong in Corvallis, where Tres Tinkle was named to the all-Pac-12 first team for the third time. Tinkle will finish his career — whether it's this week in Las Vegas or in a postseason tournament — as the only OSU player among the program's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Last week, he passed Gary Payton to become the top scorer in Beavers history, and he is on track to finish second all-time in rebounding.
Senior Kylor Kelley of Oregon State was named to the Pac-12 all-defensive team.
Tinkle enjoyed a fair amount of success against the Ducks. But it was Pritchard's drive, as much as anything, that lifted Oregon to the top of a competitive and unpredictable Pac-12.
After the final regular-season 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 MKA 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, Melissa and Terry, for putting him onto a path for success.
This is Oregon's third regular-season title in five years and just the seventh in program history. It was the first time since 1945 that the Ducks 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.
"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."
As he's done all season, Pritchard came alive against Stanford when the possessions mattered most.
In addition to sweeping the two basketball titles and the 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. 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," Altman said.
• Projecting the women's NCAA tournament: After walloping Stanford to win the Pac-12 tournament, Oregon is up to No. 2 in the AP poll and projected as the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks and Oregon State are among four Pac-12 teams projected by ESPN's Charlie Creme to host games in the first two rounds. The tournament field will be announced at 4 p.m. Monday.
• Pilots soar: The Portland women's team showed grit and poise on its way to an unexpected West Coast Conference tournament championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997. In one-point wins over 12th-ranked Gonzaga in the semifinals and over San Diego in the title game, sophomore Haylee Andrews scored tough inside baskets three times with the game on the line.
While Oregon and Oregon State are in the women's basketball spotlight, first-year coach Michael Meek and a Pilots program with one senior is on the ascent. Freshman Alex Fowler was the WCC Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection. Fowler and Keeley Frawley were named to the WCC all-freshman team, sophomore Andrews is a second-team all-WCC selection and senior Kate Andersen (ex-Jesuit High) earned honorable mention.
• Big Sky honors: Grant High graduate Khairica Rasheed was voted to the Big Sky women's basketball first team. She is a junior at Northern Arizona. Nina Radford, another former Grant standout and Northern Arizona redshirt sophomore, is the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.
Portland State junior Kylie Jimenez and sophomore Desirae Hansen were named to the all-Big Sky third team.
• PSU men: The Vikings enter Thursday's Big Sky tournament at Boise, Idaho winners of six in a row. PSU (18-14) went 8-2 down the stretch to finish fourth in the Big Sky at 12-8. Junior guard Holland "Boo Boo" Woods was a first-team all-conference selection and senior post Sal Nuhu honorable mention. Beat Montana State on Thursday and the Viks play a 5:30 p.m. Friday semifinal. The Big Sky championship is at 6 p.m. Saturday.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.