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JuJu Watkins leads USC to a road win over Arizona State

USC guard JuJu Watkins smiles during a game against Le Moyne.
USC guard JuJu Watkins, shown here smiling during a game against Le Moyne in November, scored 26 points in the Trojans’ 70-55 victory over Arizona State on Saturday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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The JuJu Watkins show has enthralled college basketball for much of the season, with the USC freshman sensation pouring in points at a clip rarely seen by such a young player.

Now that the Trojans are heading to the postseason, it might be time for a rebrand.

Watkins has a few teammates ready to star in March.

Watkins scored 26 points, Rayah Marshall added 15 points and 15 rebounds, and No. 7 USC ended its regular season with a 70-55 victory over Arizona State on Saturday.

“The team’s evolved where we really understand that we always have JuJu — the best player on the floor — but we also have other pieces and other things,” USC coach Lindsey Gottlieb said. “It makes us harder to guard.”

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Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams is skipping the medical exam at the NFL scouting combine. The Heisman Trophy winner will likely still be drafted No. 1 overall.

March 1, 2024

USC (23-5, 13-5 Pac-12) has won nine of its last 10 games. Watkins, averaging nearly 28 points, shot 10 for 22 from the field, grabbed 12 rebounds and had three assists. Kaitlyn Davis added six points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

“We always play together and pick each other up when one is down,” Watkins said.

The Trojans were coming off a difficult, 95-93 double-overtime win over Arizona on Thursday. There wasn’t as much drama on Saturday — USC never trailed.

Watkins scored 11 points on four-for-six shooting to push USC ahead 18-12 after one quarter, and the Trojans extended their advantage to 39-26 by halftime. The 6-foot-2 guard was back at it in the third quarter, hitting a 15-foot jumper, getting a steal and layup, drawing a charge and then making another bucket — all in less than a minute.

“The really amazing thing is that she’s not a superhero, she’s just JuJu,” Gottlieb said. ”That’s what she brings every day. She’s going to bring points at a high clip, she’s going to cause all this attention on that end, and she’s going to rebound and make the right decision.”

Marshall added five blocked shots, leading a USC defense that limited Arizona State to 32.8% shooting.

“She’s been playing great, she’s anchored us on defense the whole year,” Gottlieb said. “I think she’s found her confidence. We’ve continued to evolve.”

Arizona State (11-19, 3-15) has lost five straight. Jalyn Brown led the Sun Devils with 17 points and Trayanna Crisp added 16. Coach Natasha Adair bemoaned her team’s rebounding — USC had a 54-34 advantage on the glass.

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“It’s not for a lack of want-to, but there were things today we needed to do, and 21 second-chance points was the difference,” Adair said. “Our first-shot defense was great — it was the second and third opportunities.

Big picture

USC: The Trojans finished their regular season with a very good weekend, beating Arizona and Arizona State, and the way they won those two games was encouraging. Watkins fouled out late in regulation Thursday, with the supporting cast pushing to the win. Point guard Kayla Padilla was the star, hitting crucial three-pointers.

Against Arizona State, Watkins was very efficient in the first half, proving once again that she doesn’t necessarily have to be a superhero in every single game.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are still in rebuilding mode under Adair, who is in her second season. Arizona State had some good offensive possessions on Saturday, but couldn’t make enough shots to pull an upset.

Up next for USC: The Pac-12 tournament begins in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

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