April 21, 2024

This isn’t just the JuJu Watkins show.

With its star freshman fighting through stomach issues and three other players out, No. 6 USC proved its depth in a comprehensive 93-44 win over Cal State Fullerton on Monday at Galen Center. The Trojans (9-0) had a season-best five double-digit scorers, led by season-highs from Taylor Bigby (15 points) and McKenzie Forbes (17 points), who combined for eight three-pointers.

“We said all we got is all we need,” said Forbes, a grad transfer from Harvard. “Everyone from one through 13 stays ready and I think that showed tonight.”

USC, which faces Long Beach State on Thursday in its nonconference finale before an epic Pac-12 showdown against No. 2 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 30, had its best three-point shooting night of the season with 16 makes on 30 attempts.

Only Watkins, who entered the game as USC’s leading three-point shooter by percentage at 47.6%, struggled from deep, missing four of her first five shots from beyond the arc. But her quiet night was relative. The five-time Pac-12 freshman of the week still had a team-high 23 points on seven-of-18 shooting with six rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

After scoring USC’s first points of the game on two free throws, Watkins immediately subbed out and ran to the locker room. The Trojans were already short-handed with starting forward Rayah Marshall and reserve guard Dominique Darius out sick. Forward Kaitlyn Davis was out with an undisclosed injury.

When Watkins returned with a banana in her hand at the 4:53 mark of the first quarter, the Trojans had effortlessly scored 11 consecutive points without their star. They flashed their depth as Forbes, Bigby and Malia Samuels each made three-pointers during the run. Watkins’ return helped push the streak to 20 consecutive points as she assisted on a basket by Clarice Akunwafo, got a block, hit a three, forced a steal and converted on a driving layup during a 34-second spurt.

“I’m not surprised by anything,” Watkins said of her teammates stepping up. “[I see it] every day in practice. For them to just come out with the same courage and aggressiveness [as] in practice, just to see it live, it’s just amazing.”

Akunwafo, who got her first start of the year in Marshall’s place, finished with 10 points — one shy of her career-high — and five rebounds on five-of-five shooting. Guard Kayla Padilla added 13 points on five-of-seven shooting, including three made threes.

Marshall, Darius and Davis are day to day.

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