College Football and College Basketball Writer
Following a 62-59 loss to Washington back on Jan. 28, USC women’s basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb received an unexpected phone call from an on-campus security guard about a Trojans player who was still in the gym, getting up shots after everyone had left.
The security guard asked Gottlieb if he should tell the player to leave, which naturally prompted the question of “Who is it?” and “Why are they there so late?”
The player: USC freshman phenom JuJu Watkins.
The 6-foot-2 guard was fresh off a miserable 8-for-27 shooting performance, finishing with 19 points, her fourth-lowest scoring outcome of the season. She figured if she spent some extra time in the gym working on her shot, she would eventually be able to find her rhythm ahead of the team’s upcoming matchup against then-No. 4 Stanford.
“I remember it was late, maybe 10 p.m., but I’m always in the gym, that’s just me,” Watkins said. “As for the security, they’re just looking out for everybody’s safety, but they definitely weren’t gonna stop me from getting up shots.”
It turned out that Watkins found her rhythm that night, as the standout freshman dropped a program-record 51 points five days later in a memorable 67-58 win over the Cardinal. It marked the highest scoring output in a Division I women’s college basketball game this season and the first 50-point game against an AP top-five team in the last 25 years.
Watkins also became the first Division I freshman women’s basketball player to score 50 points in a single game since Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne dropped 54 back on Feb. 18, 2010.
Watkins’ historic outing led to her being named this week’s FOX Sports Army National Guard of the Week. With that, we discussed her memorable scoring outburst, her goals for the current campaign, and what it’s like playing college ball in her hometown of Los Angeles.
“I was open to all options, but USC made sense to me as far as the coaching staff and my teammates here,” Watkins said of her recruitment. “It’s a bonus that it’s only about 10 minutes from where I grew up. I’m glad I made this decision.”
Watkins and the Trojans jumped out to a 13-1 start this season and were ranked as high as No. 6 in the AP Top 25. The team lost three of four during a late-January stretch, but has bounced back since, currently sitting at 16-4 on the season and 6-4 in conference play. The Trojans are one of four Pac-12 teams – along with Colorado (No. 4), Stanford (No. 6) and UCLA (No. 9) – currently ranked inside the top 10 of the latest AP poll.
As of Wednesday evening, USC is 2.5 games outside of first place in the Pac-12 standings with an upcoming matchup against Arizona State on Friday night at Galen Center.
According to Watkins, it’s been a joy to see her team evolve throughout the season, but there is still plenty of room for growth and improvement.
“We’re still learning every step along the way,” Watkins said. “Having that confidence, resilience and toughness every day at practice is what matters most.”
Playing at a school that produced the likes of Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller, there will always be plenty of attention on USC’s women’s basketball program. And now, with an 18-year-old superstar in the mix and a top-10 ranking next to their name, expectations surrounding the Trojans have reached a level they haven’t been since back in the mid-’90s.
“There’s a long way to go before I’m even in the same conversation as those GOATS,” Watkins said of Leslie and Miller. “It really just shows the power of the Trojans. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Watch our complete interview with Watkins below and follow along at FOXSports.com and on social media, @CBBonFOX, for our next FOX Sports Army National Guard of the Week interview.
USC’s Juju Watkins is Michael Cohen’s guard of the week | CBB on FOX
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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