After winning the Pac-12 Championship in both Women’s and Men’s College Basketball, it looked as if both Ducks teams were primed for long March Madness runs.
Then the sports world stopped. On March 11th, 2020, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was diagnosed with COVID-19, the NBA announced they were suspending the season. Although the news was shocking to some, the writing was all on the wall, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time until other leagues began closing.
The following morning the MLB, NHL, MLS and most national college conferences began postponing or suspending their current season. Then the final news regarding the NCAA’s decision to cancel both the women’s and men’s March Madness Tournament came out, leaving both Oregon’s WBB and MBB with unfinished business.
My heart goes out to our seniors: Sabrina Ionescu, Minyon Moore, Ruthy Hebard, Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston who will all likely never play another collegiate game in their career.
In this article I want to celebrate and commemorate the careers of two specific Ducks: Ionescu and Pritchard who spent the better part of their last four years building Oregon basketball to the standard we have today.
Sabrina the Spectacular
Arguably one of the most decorated athletes to ever play for the Ducks, Ionescu leaves a legacy that may never be replicated, a career that included a 2019 John R. Wooden Award, 2019 Wade Trophy, and a 2x Pac-12 Player of the Year. Ionescu elected to pass on the WNBA Draft and return to the Ducks for a senior season in the hopes of bringing the Lady Ducks their first ever NCAA WBB national championship.
Let’s just say she did not disappoint…
The Ducks played an exhibition against Team USA in their first game of the season. Team USA was full of WNBA superstars, and hadn’t lost to an NCAA team since 1999, when they lost to a Pat Summit-coached Tennessee team that had future superstars Kara Lawson and Tamika Catchings on the roster.
Against the likes of future hall of famers Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Ionescu lit up Matthew Knight Arena, and brought the Ducks back from what once was a double-digit deficit. She finished with 30 points and seven assists, including a 30-foot contested three over Allisha Gray that brought the crowd to its feet.
Sabrina Ionescu putting on a show against Team USA 🖀
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) November 10, 2019
From there on out it seemed like the Lady Ducks were on a mission, and anything less than a championship would be seen as a failure. In the next few months, the legacy of Ionescu began to grow with every game. She became a national celebrity overnight, and was the talk of the town in Eugene despite having an elite men’s basketball team.
Nevertheless, due to COVID-19 and the NCAA’s decision to cancel the tournament, Ionescu’s lasting legacy will not include a national championship. But what it will include are the memories of her playing and beating OSU the day her friend and mentor Kobe Bryant died. And when she spoke at Bryant’s memorial in LA on the morning of 2/24, and then flew to third -anked Stanford in the evening only to blow them out in Palo Alto, where she became the first player in NCAA history to have 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
Sabrina will finish her collegiate career as not only one of the best women’s basketball players in NCAA history but also one of the greatest athletes to ever play for the Ducks. For that we say…THANK YOU SABRINA!
Pritchard the “Local Kid”
Unlike Ionsecu, Pritchard was not a star the day he stepped foot on UO’s campus. As a true freshman, the West Linn graduate started at point guard for the most talented Oregon Ducks team in years. Playing alongside Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis, Pritchard and the rest of Oregon MBB made it all the way to the Final Four only to lose a gut-wrenching one-point deficit to the eventual national champion, North Carolina Tar Heels.
During his freshman season, Pritchard was primarily a pass-first point guard only averaging 7.4ppg and 3.6 assists. Although Pritchard did not light up the stat sheet, he was a “glue guy” and a centerpiece amongst a veteran team with title aspirations.
The following year Pritchard became a leader and budding star for the Ducks. After NBA declarations from Brooks, Dorsey, Bell and Boucher, Coach Dana Altman and the rest of Oregon’s MBB team was forced to reload most of the roster ahead of the 2017-18 season. Unfortunately for Pritchard and the Ducks, they simply had too many holes to replace from the previous season and were unable to even reach the NCAA Tournament.
Pritchard’s junior season opened with buzz and optimism. The Ducks brought back key pieces to their young core such as Pritchard and athletic big man, Kenny Wooten and added elite prospects in Bol Bol and Louis King and other notable contributors: Will Richardson and Francis Okoro. As the most experienced player on roster, Payton took another step forward as a leader and player his junior season and even led the Ducks to a surprising Sweet 16 birth that ended in a close loss to the eventual National Champion Virginia Cavaliers. (Notice a pattern Duck fans?)
Pritchard elected to test the NBA waters after finishing his junior season but instead returned to Eugene in hopes of improving as a player and getting back to another Final Four. It became abundantly clear early on in the season that Pritchard had improved and become the unquestioned captain and superstar for Oregon MBB.
After early season back to back close losses to Gonzaga and North Carolina, Pritchard and the Ducks traveled to Ann Arbor to take on a fifth ranked Michigan Wolverines team. Despite a deafening crowd at the Crisler Center, Pritchard led the Ducks to a 71-70 overtime win while finishing with 23 points and four assists.
Pritchard continued his incredible showing through conference play. Against rival Washington, Pritchard brought the Ducks back from a 12-point halftime deficit. He finished the game with 22 points which included a difficult 3-point fade away game winner as seconds wained in overtime.
At the time this seemed like it had the makings to be Pritchard’s signature game as a Duck. A great game and a game winner on the road against an arch-rival. However, what Pritchard did this past February against Arizona in Tuscon is how I hope he is remembered as a Duck.
Pushing for the regular season Pac-12 title, the Ducks needed to win out their final four games of their season. The Wildcat crowd did everything they could to slow down Pritchard and the Ducks. They were loud and seemed in control for the majority of the second half. Despite all this Pritchard still managed to score 38 points, six rebounds and four assists. He played all 45 minutes of this marathon game which ended in a 73-72 overtime Duck win and put the Ducks in a prime position to win the Pac-12 Regular Season Title.
What Sabrina and Peyton did simultaneously during their time at Oregon may never be replicated again. These two players changed the reputation of Oregon basketball for the present and future.
The West Linn native and Oregon’s favorite adopted daughter will always have a home in Eugene.
Eugene, OregonTop Photo by: Twitter
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
Visit our Sister Site, the new Our Beloved Ducks Forum!
This new forum that is unlike anything you have ever seen between our civilized discussion, (NO TROLLS ALLOWED) complete directions available for easy usage and the delivery of all Oregon Sports News. (That last part is a gradual transition up to Spring Football)
Go to the forum where we delve into today’s article and so many more topics and the nuances within them over there.
We have a topic post begun over at the forum for today’s article; it is a free site and offers more opportunity for the exchange of opinions on all the Oregon Sports subjects of the day. (And there are some very cool features!)
An introduction article about the new forum is right here.