USC’s JuJu Watkins explodes for 51, leading Keys to upset Stanford

USC’s JuJu Watkins explodes for 51, leading Keys to upset Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. — Sunday night, USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb received a phone call from a security guard asking if freshman guard JoJo Watkins would be kicked out of the gym. Watkins was getting his shots coming off a night coming off the Trojans’ crushing three-point loss at home to Washington, their third defeat in four games.

“No,” Gottlieb told the security guard. “Let Joe be Joe.”

Fast forward to Friday night, and Watkins never had her chance again — she solidified her status as Freshman of the Year and even inserted herself into the Player of the Year conversation. At No. 4 Stanford, and against the sport’s winningest coach in Tara VanDerveer, Watkins dropped 51 points on 14-for-26 shooting from the field to lift the No. 15 Trojans over the No. 15 Cardinal 67-58 in teams. The final meeting of the Pac-12 regular season.

Watkins’ performance, her first Division I 50-point game of the season, broke a school record and was the second-most in a Pac-12 game, behind Kelsey Bloom’s 57 points against Utah in 2017.

Watkins made her presence felt all over the field. In addition to her four steals and two assists, she finished with 11 rebounds, making her the only Division I freshman in the last 25 seasons with 50 points and 10 rebounds and the first player this season with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a single game. According to ESPN statistics and information.

The performance was so stunning that by the second half, the Maples Pavilion crowd could only watch and react in awe as Watkins nailed shot after shot, no matter where she was on the floor or what defensive scheme Stanford threw her way.

“Every time I scored, all I heard was ‘ooh,'” Watkins said. “It wasn’t even like a boo. I was like, ‘Okay.’ It was crazy.”

Watkins scored 76% of USC’s points, the most by a player in the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only three other players got on the board for the Trojans — the same number of USC post players who fouled at the 4:02 mark in the fourth quarter.

Stanford and Colorado now sit in the top two in the Pac-12 standings at 8-2, while USC improved to 5-4.

Gottlieb saw something special build up for Watkins in the days following the loss to Washington. Watkins was disappointed with her individual production, as she scored 19 points on 8-for-27 shooting, among her worst point totals in conference play. She said she had trouble sleeping after the match.

For Gottlieb, Watkins’ demeanor, just like her skill on the court, is what sets her apart.

“I said all week, ‘This kid is different,'” Gottlieb said. “She’s special, the way she takes coaching, the way she’s a teammate, the way she holds herself accountable, the way she raises her game. So I didn’t expect it, but I think what’s special about her is everything in her. And obviously it’s “Today turned out in such a way that, if you love basketball, I don’t know how you wouldn’t be surprised.”

On Friday in Maples — where Watkins recalled sitting in the stands years ago on her official visit as a recruit before eventually choosing USC — Gottlieb felt relieved when she drilled in for Watkins’ first three-point attempt. She stagnated and hadn’t made more than two from 3 in each of her previous eight games. She finished 6-for-11 from deep Friday night, surpassing Stanford’s team total (4-for-15).

Stanford tried several defenders on Watkins to try to slow it down, but to no avail. That, coupled with the Cardinal’s offensive struggles, led to their first home loss of the season.

With the score tied at 31 at halftime, Watkins saw she had 25 points and knew she could have 50. She then scored USC’s first 15 points of the second half to put them ahead by double digits, enough to help the Trojans. Holding off the Cardinals late in the fourth quarter.

“Once she started playing, the basket was too big for her,” VanDerveer said of Watkins.

Watkins’ scoring from the field dwindled in the final 15 minutes, but she converted 13 of 15 free throws in the second half. By the end of the game, she had committed 16 fouls and made 19 free throws.

It was the kind of individual performance that rarely happens against Stanford — and at Stanford, no less. Dating back to the turn of the century, the most scored by a player against the Cardinals was Bloom’s 44.

However, Watkins has only played 19 games in her collegiate career.

“I think it probably goes to the top,” VanDerveer said when asked if this was the best freshman performance she had seen. “Yes, she is very talented.”

Gottlieb added: “You came away with an MVP, and our players fought back and did what we had to do, so I’m very proud of the win and how this team was able to do it tonight. I’ll never forget this.” “.

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