Another JuJu Watkins record can’t save USC in loss to Utah

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JuJu Watkins continues to move up the scoring ranks at USC, but her historic game Sunday came with USC dropping in the Pac-12 standings.

Watkins set the single-season freshman scoring record with 30 points to bring her season total to 705, passing Paula McGee, but shot just 10 for 30 from the field in a 74-68 loss to No. 18 Utah at Galen Center.

With their freshman phenom struggling, seniors who were honored before their final regular-season home game stepped up with gritty performances.

Kaitlyn Davis, a transfer from Columbia, had 13 points and eight rebounds, including five offensive boards. She scored 10 points in the third quarter that helped USC (21-5, 11-5 Pac-12) come back from a nine-point deficit. Off the bench, senior guard Kayla Williams played suffocating defense at the top of USC’s press. Harvard transfer McKenzie Forbes had 10 points and four assists.

But it was Utah’s senior transfer who sealed the win.

Reigning Pac-12 player of the year Alissa Pili scored 23 points with 11 rebounds to lead Utah to its second win over the Trojans this year. With the crowd rocking after Watkins pulled the Trojans within four points with 1:09 remaining, Pili drove around USC forward Rayah Marshall and laid in a basket that quieted the packed crowd.

After starting her career with the Trojans, winning Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2020, Sunday would have been Pili’s senior day at USC.

The loss ended USC’s seven-game winning streak and, along with Oregon State’s loss to Washington on Sunday, dropped the Trojans into a four-team race for second in the Pac-12. After first-place Stanford, USC and Oregon State each have five conference losses with No. 12 UCLA and No. 11 Colorado, who are both 10-5 in conference play, set to play Monday at Pauley Pavilion.

Watkins didn’t hit her first jump shot until the 6:40 mark of the fourth quarter, a mid-range fadeaway that pulled the Trojans within three points. She opened the second quarter by airballing a midrange jumper. But the freshman adjusted quickly.

On the next two trips down the court, Watkins aggressively drove into the lane for back-to-back three-point plays. She locked in on defense with a block and a defensive rebound, pushing the pace and kicking a pass out to Forbes on the wing for a three that pulled the Trojans within two with 8:27 to go in the first half.

Forbes’ shot was USC’s only made three-pointer during the first half. After sinking 13 of 19 three-pointers in a shootout against Colorado on Friday, the Trojans made just one of their first nine shots from distance Sunday and four of 20 total.

Utah capitalized with 11 made threes off 27 attempts.

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