When Oregon played Western Oregon in an exhibition game last week, point guard Payton Pritchard couldn’t be found on the court. Instead, he was at the end of Oregon’s bench, wearing street clothes with a grim and straight look on his face.
He watched his teammates defeat the Wolves but do so in less-than impressive fashion. Too often were the Ducks careless with the ball, turning it over in moments of insecurity. The offense never got into a rhythm, settling for too many contested jumpers and one-on-one opportunities.
Pritchard was out after sustaining an injury during practice earlier in the week. He caught an elbow to the midsection that left his ribs bruised, causing him to miss out on the first action the Ducks would have against another opponent.
When No. 14 Oregon officially kicked off its season against Portland State on Tuesday night, Pritchard wasn’t found on the bench. Instead, the junior was on the court, directing, leading and willing the Ducks to an 84-57 victory in their season opener.
“I definitely got to be aggressive, kind of like tonight,” Pritchard said. “When I’m aggressive, we get easy looks.”
He finished with a game-high 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting (1-of-1 from beyond the arc). Although he finished with five turnovers, his ability to control the pace against a Portland State squad dedicated on controlling tempo was the difference-maker. Pritchard finished 9-of-9 from the free throw line, consistently breaking the Vikings press and attacking the rim.
"I got to be aggressive because when I'm aggressive other people get easy looks and I get to the rim, I get to the free throw line," Pritchard said.
His leadership was evident in the second half when Portland State started to make a little run, cutting the deficit to 11.
Following a Vikings score, Pritchard brought the ball up and stopped just past half court and took a deep breath before engineering the offense. When freshman Francis Okoro wasn’t in the right place, the usually soft-spoken Pritchard had no issue calling out Okoro, telling and pushing him where to go. With Okoro in the right place, Oregon was able to get a bucket that ignited a 12-0 run and out the game away.
“I just got to be a leader and show them the way,” Pritchard said. “A lot of the guys don’t know what it’s like to play in the Pac and play on the road.”
Five-star freshmen Bol Bol and Louis King get all the headlines for the Ducks, two players who are potential lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Regardless of how talented they are, Pritchard is the catalyst and the most important player on the team — the player who will take the Ducks as far as possible.