Following the Ducks’ 80-67 victory over Stanford on Saturday night at Matthew Knight Arena, the Oregon men’s basketball team has lived up to preseason hype once again. For the third time in five years, Oregon head coach Dana Altman has cobbled together a winning squad to claim the outright Pac-12 regular-season title.
But it didn’t come easy.
At times throughout the 2019-2020 season, the Ducks seemed on the verge of unraveling, as injuries and unforeseen life circumstances kept piling up.
Five-star freshman center N’Faly Dante was ruled ineligible to start the 2019-2020 season and missed the first seven games, only to suffer a knee injury during Oregon’s overtime win over Washington on Jan. 18, placing him on the bench for several weeks; junior guard Chris Duarte‘s surgery on his shooting hand to repair a broken pinky finger placed him on the bench indefinitely with zero chance of playing in the Pac-12 tournament; and senior center Francis Okoro missed several games after being hit by a car in November, and later returning home to Nigeria for several days to attend a funeral service following the death of his father, who died unexpectedly in December.
Oregon faltered at times, losing games in particularly frustrating fashion to Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State and Arizona State. But the Ducks never went completely off the rails. Despite the difficulties, Altman stayed the course, keeping the Ducks motivated and focused on playing their brand of basketball.
After some nerve-racking detours, the Ducks have developed a team identity just in time for the postseason. And Oregon’s home victory over the Cardinal marked several historical milestones for the Ducks.
Firstly, Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard‘s final performance in Eugene (29 points, six rebounds, five assists) solidified himself as a serious contender for both the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy for National Player of the Year, finishing the regular season as the school’s all-time assist leader (659) and fourth in career scoring with 1938 points, behind Ron Lee (2,085), Luke Jackson (1,970), and Anthony Taylor (1,939).
According to OregonLive, Oregon became the first Pac-12 school to earn a “triple crown” after winning championships in football, women’s basketball and men’s basketball in the same academic year. All three programs also went undefeated at home this year for a combined record of 39-0.
The Ducks (24-7, 13-5 Pac-12) also clinched a top seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which begins on March 11 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
As for Altman, the Nebraska-born coach continues to build on his legacy as the most winningest coach in program history (259-103 overall record at Oregon). Altman also earned his 669th career win, ranking 27th among NCAA D-1 coaches for all-time wins.
Whether the Ducks keep this momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament, March Madness, and beyond, nobody really knows. But if you look at what the Ducks have accomplished under Altman since 2010, there’s a good chance Oregon is just getting warmed up.
San Diego, California Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
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