PORTLAND, Ore. — The Ducks are no strangers to early season tournaments. Last season, Oregon took a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, a prestigious annual event. The Ducks lost the opening game of the tournament to Georgetown in what was a game of growing pains for an eventual Final Four team.
Now the Ducks are back in an early season tournament, this time it’s PK80 hosted in Portland, Oregon, promoted as the biggest non-March tournament ever. UConn is the Oregon’s first-round opponent, and the Ducks will be looking to avoid another first-round loss on Saturday.
UConn (3-0) will be Oregon’s toughest opponent so far this season. The Huskies, like the Ducks (3-0), haven’t played a tough schedule, so the game, and the tournament, will be a litmus test.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” guard Elijah Brown said. “Obviously there are good teams in here, but we feel like we’re a good team as well, so it’s just going to come down to how well we’re able to execute the things we’re going to execute. And at the end of the day, if we do that. then we’re going to have a good chance.”
There are more similarities between the two programs. They played each other a season ago in the second round of the Maui Invitational, a game which the Ducks won 79-69. Both teams also only return one starter from last season.
UConn lost 62 percent of its points and 66 percent of its minutes. It is a team that is still learning and working through the kind of team it’s going to be this year. UConn’s two starting guards, Alterique Gilbert and Antwoine Anderson, are dynamic players that the Ducks need to contain.
“They’re really quick and they really do a good job of getting to the rim,” head coach Dana Altman said. “It’s going to test our defense. See how well we can slide our feet, stay in front of them. Rebounding will be a big factor in the game, both ways.”
As a team, UConn has been good defensively. The Huskies are 54th in the country defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. They’ve held teams to 43.5 percent shooting, while hitting at 52 percent themselves.
It’s clear that the Huskies are still working on their rotations, figuring out which lineups work well.
The tournament is named after Nike co-founder and Oregon alumnus Phil Knight, so do the Ducks have extra pressure to perform?
“A little bit. It’s here in our backyard,” Altman said. “This isn’t our home facility or anything, but we’re in Portland and Mr. Knight has been such a big part of what we’ve tried to build at Oregon, with the facility named after his son, and so forth. So I’d be very disappointed if our guys didn’t recognize that.”
For Portland native and Oregon guard Payton Pritchard, the tournament means a little more compared to most.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “I get to play in front of all my family and friends and represent the state of Oregon. It’s a great event. It will be fun.”
Through his career, Pritchard is 10-0 at Moda Center, the site for Oregon’s opening game.
“Hopefully it keeps going,” he said.
Oregon and UConn tip-off at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917