JuJu Watkins breaks USC scoring record, Trojans advance to Sweet 16

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JuJu Watkins

USC Trojans freshman JuJu Watkins passes legend Cheryl Miller for the single-season scoring record with 833 points.

Photo: Jineen Williams/Ballislife

USC freshman phenomenon JuJu Watkins has shined in her first year in the Trojans, collecting all sorts of personal accolades. Having a profound effect on the program, Watkins and the Trojans are headed to their first Sweet 16 since the 1993-1994 season.

The irony in all this? In 1994, WNBA stars Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson were key members of the team, while USC standout Cheryl Miller briefly served as head coach.

And now, Watkins passed Miller for the USC Trojan's all-time single scoring record in her first season. While there's a magnitude of talent, especially among freshmen in NCAA Women's basketball, Watkins has set the stage to become the next generational star. Right front and center, Cheryl Miller has been her no. 1 supporter and mentor through it all.

And you love to see former trailblazers who paved the way by helping young stars in the game today. Watkins is full of toughness, and grit, and has what it takes to be great. Although she's towards the beginning of her journey, she's a rising star in the game. While several legendary athletes tend to disappear after their careers, it's incredible to see the involvement and faith Miller has in the USC program and Watkins.

Calling Miller the "goat," Watkins reflected on the Icon after their first-round victory.

"She trusts in my mentality," Watkins told the media via March Madness PR. "I think we're similar in some ways, as far as the competitiveness to want to win. She's always encouraged that, and encouraged me never to lose that." (March Madness PR)

Watkins broke several USC records in her freshman campaign

What's not to love about Watkins? Not only did she help lead her team past Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship, but no. 12 continues to break every USC record. She had an unforgettable 51-point performance against Stanford, which sent shockwaves across the basketball world. In that matchup, Watkins became the first Trojan to ever score 51 points in a game.

Related article: Rising Star: Freshman JuJu Watkins stuns with 51-point performance

While she had a season-low nine points in the conference championship, her impact of just appearing on the court is profound. It's her innate ability to fill the box score in other ways, and her maturity to handle pressure at such a young age.

Averaging 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in her first year, the LA native is bringing excitement back to Los Angeles. Under coach Lindsay Gottlieb, USC punched their way to a second consecutive NCAA appearance, breaking an eight-year drought for the program. Although the Trojans had brief first and second-round exits under coach Cynthia Cooper and Mark Trakh, Watkins and Gottlieb are brewing something special. There's something to be said about "JuJu and the nerds." Gottlieb has built a a force of talent around Watkins, which includes Harvard transfer McKenzie Forbes.

Photo: Jineen Williams/Ballislife

With USC making headlines, Watkins was named AP All-American first team. She was honored next to Caitlin Clark (Iowa), Paige Bueckers (UConn), Hannah Hidalgo (Notre Dame), and Cameron Brink (Stanford). That in itself speaks volumes.

She passes Cheryl Miller for the all-time USC single-season scoring record

833 total points is nothing to sniff at. While the headlines have mainly surrounded other athletes in women's basketball, it's Watkins and the upcoming freshman that will define the evolution and growth of women's hoops in the future. FurthWatkins finished her sensational freshman campaign with the third most points among freshmen in NCAA history. She trailed only Kelsey Mitchell from Ohio State, who scored 873 points, and Tina Hutchinson from San Diego State, who is the all-time leader.

Entering the NCAA tournament as the no. 1 seed for the first time since 1986, the Trojans faced the no. 16-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Regional 3 in Portland. Limiting AMCC to just four points in the first quarter, it was Watkins that led the way with 23 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

Although she was cold beyond the arc, she was automatic from the midrange. Her ability to pass up the rock on fast breaks and drive to the basketball is a staple of her game. With a uniqueness to her offensive game, Watkins is hard to be stopped anywhere on the court. The second leading scoring in the nation, she's a walking bucket, and it extends well beyond the arc.

Watkins and USC are headed to the Sweet 16

While Watkins has shown several MVP-esque performances this season, JuJu Watkins continues to show why she makes a two-way impact on the game. Many will argue the talent gap was enormous between the two teams. However, four blocks and two steals is a statement, and the Trojans had 14 combined steals and blocks as a team.

On Monday night, it was Watkins's double-double performance that lifted USC over Kansas 73-55 in the round of 32. This time around, she showcased her full talents on the court. Her ability to maneuver around screens from the three-point line, and drive through traffic was stellar. A true versatile three-way scorer, Watkins was blowing by the defenses in the paint. Her dominance was so effective on the offensive end, Kansas was forced to switch to a zone defense. She finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and two steals.

For Watkins and her teammates, it's all about confidence moving forward in the NCAA Tournament.

JuJu Watkins key to victory: having confidence

"It's important to have confidence," said Watkins. "I have a lot of confidence in this team. It's a lot on the line. But at the end of the day, I trust my teammates and I are going to get the job done." I didn't know what to expect. Still don't really know what to expect. I'm just here for the ride, knowing what I need to do every game. I'm just going to give all I can, and hopefully, that ends with the result that we want." ( March Madness PR)

Watkins can't be stopped, and most teams have run into this issue on the defensive front. A force to be reckoned with, the USC Trojans are a no.1. seed for a reason. Joining Iowa, South Carolina, and Texas as the top seeds in the nation, Watkins has was it takes to power her team to a deep run in the tournament. With 16 remaining teams, the Trojans will face off against no.1 Baylors on Saturday, Mar. 30.

If they survive against the Bears, USC has a shot of facing either Connecticut or Duke in the elite eight. With South Carolina showing they are once again the team to beat, how far of a run can USC make? Either way, Watkins is poised and ready for the moment.

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Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator, and Social Media Manager for Ballislife Bets. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in the Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration.


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