JuJu Watkins won Associated Press national Player of the Week on Jan. 16 after scoring 32 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a win over UCLA.
It’s safe to say the USC freshman is in line for that award for the second time in four weeks after a stunning 80-point weekend, including 51 against No. 4-ranked Stanford, ending the Cardinal 27-game Pac-12 home win streak.
The 6-foot-2 Watkins not only set a school record with her 51 but scored the most points of any Division I player this season, surpassing Buffalo’s Chellia Watson, who scored 47 on Jan. 27. Elena Delle Donne was the last freshman to cross the 50-point barrier when she scored 54 in 2010 as a Delaware freshman.
Her output was the most individual points Stanford has allowed this century, and possibly ever. Connecticut’s Nykesha Sales dropped 46 on Stanford in 1997 and Washington’s Kelsey Plum scored 44 in 2017.
“I think it probably goes right up there at the top,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of the best she has seen over 45 seasons as a college head coach. “She’s very talented.”
Watkins followed up with 29 points Sunday against California, overshadowing even Iowa’s Caitlin Clark in a week when the national scoring leader had a combined 70 against Northwestern and Maryland.
Clark is averaging 32.4 points followed nationally by Watkins at 27.3.
“Don’t do that,” Watkins said in a postgame interview when Caitlin Clark was mentioned in a question. “Much respect to her.”
Watkins was in foul trouble early against Stanford, picking up her second at 6:49 of the first quarter. She only fouled once after that, shooting 53.8 percent (14-of-26) with six 3-pointers, making 17-of-19 free throws and snaring 11 rebounds in 34 minutes.
No. 15 USC won 67-58 in a line-in-the-sand game after going 1-3 in its previous four including a 62-59 home loss to unranked Washington.
“I haven’t been able to sleep this past week coming off some losses,” Watkins said. “Just in the gym 24/7 helped my confidence a lot. Today was a product of all that hard work and staying focused.”
USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said a security guard at Galen Center called to report Watkins in the gym practicing late Sunday after the Washington loss.
“Let Ju be Ju,” Gottlieb said. “We track her load because there’s a lot on her, but I never want to stifle her from being her. That’s her way to make herself feel like she’s ready to go. She was a really great teammate this week in terms of trying to get the team refocused on winning. She’s a tremendous balance of elite competitiveness to get herself right but also be about the team.”
McKenzie Forbes added 12 for USC including an important buzzer-beating runner to start a game-clinching 7-0 run. “Do not let this go to waste, we have to win the game,” Forbes told her teammates in the third quarter after Watkins eclipsed her previous season (35 on Nov. 13).
The same was true in a different context Sunday when Watkins had just two points in the first quarter and the Trojans trailed 61-58 after three quarters against Cal.
USC used balanced scoring for a 21-8 edge in the fourth (Watkins had four) to make sure another unranked loss would not detract from the Stanford upset. The Bay sweep was the first for the Trojans since 2000-01.
Stanford responds vs. UCLA
VanDerveer all but guaranteed that her team would be better Sunday against No. 7 UCLA than it did against USC.
“It’s early enough in the season that our team can learn and listen and improve,” she said. “We can’t expect to beat a really good team taking the shots we took, turning the ball over, not getting offensive boards and not keeping them off the glass. We didn’t give ourselves a chance. I really believe we’re better than that. I think you’ll see a much more competitive game.”
The Cardinal responded as might be expected after prodding from the winningest coach ever in college basketball. They led almost the entire game by as many as 30 points, winning 80-60 to end the weekend tied for first in the Pac-12 with No. 6 Colorado.
Posts Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen combined for 37 points and 27 rebounds as Stanford outscored the Bruins 52-12 in the paint. UCLA was without 6-7 center Lauren Betts (undisclosed medical) for a fourth consecutive game.
The Bruins are 3-4 in their last seven games. “Bottom line is we got out-toughed, out-executed,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We’ve got some hard choices that need to be made coming up. I know what my team has in them and we did not play to character. We’ve got to take responsibility for that and go back to the drawing board.”
On Betts, Close said, “Obviously Lauren is a really great player and we’d love to have her back. We look forward to at the appropriate time having her back with us. But just adding Lauren back does not fix what we saw.”
Mountain schools sweep in Washington
Like USC, Colorado and No. 20 Utah also went 2-0, sweeping on the road in Washington.
Both were tested by Washington State, playing without star guard Charlisse Leger-Walker after her season-ending knee injury in a win at UCLA on Jan. 28.
Colorado beat the Cougars 63-57 followed by Utah’s 73-61 win in Pullman.
The Buffs’ Aaronette Vonleh had a combined 41 points on the weekend. Utah’s Alissa Pili scored 31 Friday against Washington and Charisma Osborne 32 for UCLA in a win over Cal although both were barely noticed in the wake of Watkins’ 51.
No. 18 Oregon State and Arizona won rivalry games Sunday, the former lifting the Beavers into sole possession of third place in the Pac-12.
Oregon State led nearly the entire game at Oregon including by 13 in the second quarter but could not put away the Ducks until an 8-2 run in the fourth. Lily Hansford’s consecutive 3-pointers were the daggers although Oregon did pull within one possession in the final 30 seconds.
The Ducks now are on a Pac-12-high five-game losing streak ahead of road games at Colorado and Utah.
Arizona used a 14-2 run at the outset of the fourth quarter to beat Arizona State 63-52, completing a rivalry sweep just like Oregon State.
Esmery Martinez led the short-handed Wildcats with an 18-point, 15-rebound double-double. Helen Pueyo again hurt ASU with 11 points, six boards, four assists, three blocks and three steals.