LOS ANGELES — Jada Williams was the pest that wouldn’t go away, the stubborn fly in JuJu Watkins’ ear, buzzing and hovering and visibly frustrating one of the nation’s best scorers.
Williams had seen firsthand the devastation Watkins could bring, in two meets as seniors last year when Williams’ team at La Jolla Country Day fell in a heavyweight practice match to Watkins and Sierra Canyon. And now Williams, a freshman at Arizona, operated Monday night at the head of a series of Wildcats defenders watching Watkins in half-court, never letting the 6-foot-2 threat out of her sight, maintaining a point of contact with Watkins at all times and visibly. annoying the USC freshman.
They threw the entire toolbox at Watkins and USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who are part of a rotating ensemble of Pac-12 defenses, each with their own unique directive for containing a player who has entered in the evening with an average of 37 points in his last three games. Williams guarded Watkins’ face and several Wildcats entered the lane while she was on the perimeter, visibly daring any other USC shooter to beat them.
And they were beaten.
After USC’s victory over UCLA in mid-January, Gottlieb affectionately nicknamed his group “JuJu and the Nerds,” a series of Ivy League transfers supporting Watkins’ heliocentric efforts in the USC offense. USC. Those nerdsHowever, pack a powerful punch — and Kayla Padilla, Kaitlyn Davis and McKenzie Forbes stole the show in an 81-64 win over Arizona (12-12 overall, 4-8 Pac-12) on Monday Tonight, a huge step in conference play for a USC team (18-4, 8-4) that continues to show it can win in a variety of ways.
In the second quarter, with Arizona taking a four-point lead and completely content to let USC throw the ball on the perimeter to anyone not named Watkins, Penn Transfer Padilla drained two straight points – followed immediately by one from Forbes. giving USC a lead it would never relinquish. And in the third quarter, Davis’ energy gave the Trojans a huge boost, a forward who does the dirty work and shines.
Less than a minute into the match, she faced a smooth left-handed jumper. On Arizona’s next possession, she skied for an incredible leadoff steal, leaving it for Watkins to drive to draw a foul. And seconds later, she ripped off a wayward layup from Watkins and kicked Padilla for the fourth senior 3-pointer of the night, a 7-0 swing created almost entirely by Davis.
Watkins finished with 32 points, but shot 9 of 23 from the field and committed seven turnovers, clearly hindered at times by the Wildcats’ defensive alignment. So Padilla’s 15 points (all 3-pointers) and seven assists were sorely needed as the senior continued to hit massive shots and control the game for USC in massive moments. Davis had eight points, interior presence Rayah Marshall got going in the fourth quarter to finish with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Forbes added a pair of 3-pointers as USC rolled to its fourth straight victory.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Watkins scored nine points in the third as the Trojans outscored the Wildcats 23-11 to take a 60-44 lead after leading by two early in the period. … She made all 12 of her free throws and also had seven rebounds and four assists in a game-high 38 minutes. … It was Watkins’ ninth 30-point game of the season, breaking the program record of eight set by Cherie Nelson in 1988-89. … The Trojans were outscored 17-11 by the conference’s worst rebounding team in the first half before asserting themselves after halftime. They finished with a 34-29 rebounding advantage.
More to come on this story.
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