USC dominates and advances to the Round of 32

Sujey Luna - The Sporting Tribune
The Trojans came out firing in the first quarter and never looked back, blowing out an overmatched Corpus Christi squad, 87-55.

LOS ANGELES — It’s no secret that USC has far bigger March Madness goals than advancing to the second round. But that didn’t make Saturday afternoon’s first round blowout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi any less special.

In the first NCAA Tournament game at Galen Center since the arena opened nearly two decades ago, the No. 1 seed Trojans put on a show, blitzing the No. 16 seed Islanders and never looking back. USC led 21-4 after the first quarter and coasted the rest of the way, cruising to an 87-55 victory.

It was the first NCAA Tournament win for the Women of Troy since 2006.

Leading the way for the Trojans were superstar freshman guard Juju Watkins and senior guard McKenzie Forbes, who each finished with 23 points. With her performance, Watkins broke the USC record for most points in a single season, a mark previously held by the legendary Cheryl Miller.

“I wasn’t even aware that happened,” Watkins said of surpassing Miller’s record. “I’m just grateful, honestly. Coach has so much trust in me. I’m grateful for that. My teammates have so much trust in me.”

“I’m just grateful to be in that mention and to be part of the Trojan legacy.”

Junior center Rayah Marshall and senior guard Kayla Padilla added ten points apiece for the Trojans. Marshall also chipped in 11 rebounds, recording her 13th double-double of the season.

However, it was senior guard India Otto, a seldom-used former walk-on, who stole the show. With USC leading comfortably late, the team captain and longest-tenured Trojan checked in and hit a layup and a three-pointer on consecutive, drawing a roar from the Galen Center crowd.

“I’ve been here for five years,” Otto said. “My first year, no one was in the stands . . . you don’t take those moments for granted.”

“It was incredible. That is a core memory for me for sure. A culmination of everything I put into this program the last five years, it was really, really special.”

“There’s no one as responsible for building this program as Otto,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of her senior. “The way the team reacts when she’s out there just shows the character she has, the huge impact she’s had on our players.”

For Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, senior guard Mireia Aguado led the way with 15 points. Senior forward Alecia Westbrook added 12 points and six rebounds.

With the victory, the Trojans move onto the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years. There, they will face No. 8 seed Kansas, who defeated No. 9 seed Michigan earlier Saturday. Win that one, and USC would advance to Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994.

“Good day for us,” Gottlieb said. “We’ll get back to work and have another chance to play a game on Monday night, which we’re really grateful for.”

Tipoff between USC and Kansas is set for 7:00 p.m. PDT Monday night on ESPN.