EUGENE, Ore. — When Oregon’s Payton Pritchard was a freshman, he started 35 of the Ducks’ 39 games as the team went all the way to the Final Four. Since then, he has started every game for the Ducks, the 100th being Sunday night when Oregon defeated Utah 80-62.
The victory was Pritchard’s seventh over Utah in four years and as far as Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak is concerned, he hopes it’s his last, assuming the two teams don’t meet up in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next month.
After the game, both Krystkowiak and Oregon coach Dana Altman talked about the similarities between Pritchard, who scored 25 for the Ducks and Utah’s freshman guard Rylan Jones, who led the Utes with 18 points Sunday, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. On the season, Jones, who has started all but one game, is averaging 10.6 points, which is more than Pritchard did as a freshman, albeit with a better team, at 7.4 ppg.
“There’s similarities between the two,” said Krystkowiak. “Rylan’s got to put a little meat on his bones, but he’s got the same kind of moxie. It’s a pretty good comparison, a good person for Rylan to look up to and want to be like. I would encourage it.”
Altman praised Jones postgame and agreed there were similarities between Pritchard and Jones.
“I’m really impressed, he’s a really good player,” said Altman of Jones. “He’s talented, tough, competitive and has really good vision. He’s going to be a pain in our rear for three years.”
Jones said he’s admired Pritchard’s game ever since his sophomore year of high school when he watched Pritchard first playing for Oregon.
“He’s a really good player, he’s been around a long time and won a lot of games for them,” he said. “I’ve watched him ever since he’s been in the Pac-12 and I’m trying to be as good as him someday. I’m going to try to model myself after him.”
Pritchard tweeted at Jones after the game, writing, “Love the way you play and compete! You have a bright future ahead.”
Krystkowiak called it “baptism by fire,” how Jones is competing against the likes of Pritchard, Arizona State’s Remy Martin and Arizona’s Nico Mannion on a weekly basis.
“Rylan is getting an opportunity to play against some elite point guards and I know that’s a little bit of baptism by fire to go out and play against them, but that’s exactly what he signed up for,” Krystkowiak said.
“I’m really impressed, he’s a really good player. He’s talented, tough, competitive and has really good vision. He’s going to be a pain in our rear for three years.” — Oregon coach Dana Altman on Rylan Jones
After losing the two road games in Oregon to fall to 1-8 overall on the road and 0-7 in Pac-12 play, the Utes return to home sweet home, where they’re 10-1 and welcome UCLA and USC, which are tied for fifth place in the Pac-12 at 8-5, just a game out of first place. The Bruins come to town for an 8:30 p.m. MST game Thursday night, while the Trojans will play the Utes Sunday at 4 p.m.
Even though the Utes have followed previous road sweeps with sweeps at home the following week, Krystkowiak said he’s not banking on that, although he feels confident about his young team.
“Past performance is not a great predictor of what we have ahead of us,” he said. “We’re really familiar with both USC and UCLA and it seems like we played them yesterday (actually a little more than two weeks ago). We’ve got to get dialed in and have another great week of practice. We can’t have any days where we’re not making progress. We’ve got to get it clicking.”
After this weekend, the Utes will have a pair of games next week in the Bay Area against Stanford on Wednesday and Cal Saturday before playing their regular-season finale against Colorado the following Saturday.