LAS VEGAS — I would say a star was born Monday afternoon in Las Vegas, but those familiar with 18-year-old Los Angeles native JuJu Watkins already knew what she was about.
In her collegiate debut, the No. 1 overall recruit and reigning Gatorade National High School Player of the Year tallied a remarkable 32-6-5 on 11-18 shooting. Watkins also went 9-10 from the line and recorded a +/- of 23. In short, it was one of the best debuts in modern women’s college basketball history.
USC jumped out to an 18-point lead at halftime after outscoring Ohio State 31-10 in the second quarter. The Buckeyes flipped the script after half, outscoring USC by a nearly identical 30-10 score in the third quarter.
USC’s Mackenize Forbes scored 8 of her 11 points in the deciding fourth quarter, aiding the offensive attack that had been led by Watkins and junior Rayah Marshall. Marshall’s 18 points and whopping 17 rebounds were crucial in the winning effort for USC.
USC outscored Ohio State 26-17 in the final quarter en route to an 83-74 victory.
Jacy Sheldon led Ohio State with 28 points on 10-19 shooting in the loss. Sheldon was the driving force behind the third quarter comeback that had the Buckeyes leading entering the final quarter.
The other story today was bigger than basketball.
Las Vegas native and Spring Valley graduate Aaliyah Gayles made her return to Las Vegas, this time in uniform for the Trojans. She wasn’t cleared to play and didn’t log any minutes, but the sheer fact she was present and in her patented #3 with USC for the first time was the biggest victory of the day.
An emotional moment was shared between Gayles and USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb postgame, as Gottlieb detailed Gayles’ journey back to the USC program and how she impacts her teammates.