Juju Watkins leads Sierra Canyon past Etiwanda to win Open Division girls’ basketball title
Juju Watkins showed why she is one of the country’s top high school recruits Tuesday night, pouring in a game-high 29 points and contesting numerous shots on defense to lead Chatsworth Sierra Canyon’s girls basketball team to a 60-51 upset of top-seeded and previously undefeated Etiwanda in the Open Division regional finals in Rancho Cucamonga.
Sierra Canyon built a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter, but Etiwanda sliced its deficit in half before Watkins made a pair of free throws to stem the tide. The Trailblazers (29-2) will play for a fifth state championship Saturday at 6 p.m. at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento vs. Northern California perennial power San Jose Archbishop Mitty. The Monarchs (30-1) beat Concord Carondelet 72-63 earlier Tuesday.
Watkins, a junior, scored 20 in the first half of the previous encounter but had only four in the second half and fouled out with 3:58 left. She transferred from Windward in the summer of 2021 and sat out the first six games this season because of CIF transfer protocols. She debuted Dec. 3, hitting the winning basket and scoring 30 points in a 65-64 overtime win vs. New Hope Academy of Landover, Md. That same day in the championship game she had 33 in a 63-42 victory over Texas Princeton.
Watkins is among the top 2023 prospects in the country.
Arenas scored eight points and Kayla Malek, Crystal Wang and MacKenly Randolph each added seven for Sierra Canyon, which avenged a 69-57 defeat in the Southern Section finals Feb. 26 on the same floor. Sierra Canyon was outscored 17-2 down the stretch in the loss nine days ago and was determined not to let history repeat itself.
“We learned a lot from that last game with Etiwanda,” said Watkins, who had 15 rebounds, three blocks and was 12 of 12 from the free-throw line in the second half. “So we were extra hungry and we knew we couldn’t go to states if we didn’t win this game. Now we’re headed to Sacramento, which is where we want to be. The last time was humbling for me, having to watch from the bench at the end, so I knew I had to be smarter. No more fouling out for me.”
Trailing 42-35 with eight minutes left, Etiwanda tried to rally but missed its first six shots of the fourth quarter. Watkins swished a three-pointer from the top of the arc and Izela Arenas made a layup to push the Trailblazers’ lead to 12 at the six-minute mark and they led by as many as 14 before holding off a desperate Eagles run.
Destiny Agubata had 17 points, Aliyahna Morris had 14 and Kennedy Smith added 10 for Etiwanda (29-1), which was vying for its first trip to the state finals. Eleven of the Eagles’ wins were against teams ranked in the top 25 in California, but they were unable to make it victory No. 12, thanks to a stifling Sierra Canyon defense that clogged the lane and sealed off the perimeter.
High school basketball: Southern California and Northern California regional final results and state championship schedule
Smith was hoping to join her brother RJ in Sacramento. Before Kennedy’s game tipped off, RJ was helping his La Verne Damien boys’ squad win the Division I regional title. The Spartans (31-4) will play Clovis North for the state crown Friday.
“Tonight, we didn’t make our layups and didn’t get to enough loose balls,” Etiwanda coach Stan Delus said. “As talented as we are we still have young kids and they’re going to make mistakes. I was confident in our ability to weather the storm because we have all year long, but their last run really hurt us.”
Alicia Komaki has coached the Trailblazers to four state titles in her 10 seasons and wants to add another.
“In the last game against them we tried too much scheming,” she said. “So this time, we played them mostly man-to-man and trusted that we could guard them. We stuck to what we’re best at and it worked.”
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