April 14, 2024

Bruised, bloodied but unbowed, JuJu Watkins had 17 points and eight rebounds to lead USC to a 65-62 win over Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

While the Pac-12 freshman of the year fought through a physical Arizona defense that left her with a welt over her left eyebrow and a bandage on her left arm, the second-seeded Trojans (24-5) also flexed their depth with a double-double from Rayah Marshall, who had 15 points and 15 rebounds.

USC, which will play in Friday’s semifinal at 7:30 p.m. PST against UCLA or Utah, busted open a tight, four-point game with eight consecutive points to start the fourth quarter. Only one point during the decisive run came from Watkins.

Marshall recorded her third consecutive double-double, adding three blocks. McKenzie Forbes knocked down two key threes during the fourth quarter to finish with nine points. Guard Taylor Bigby hit three big three-pointers off the bench during the first half.

Watkins scored just seven points in the final three quarters combined. She arrived just in time to stop Arizona’s comeback attempt. She drove into the lane, came to a stop just as Arizona’s Isis Beh tried to step in to draw a charge and contorted her body around the Arizona forward for a layup and a five-point lead with 22.4 seconds remaining.

USC forward Kaitlyn Davis, right, attempts to steal the ball from Arizona forward Esmery Martinez.

USC forward Kaitlyn Davis, right, attempts to steal the ball from Arizona forward Esmery Martinez during the first half Thursday.

(Ian Maule / Associated Press)

USC let a 13-point first-quarter lead evaporate in a flurry of 16 first-half turnovers. Although Watkins’ 10 points outscored the Wildcats alone during the first quarter, the freshman also had six turnovers during the first half. USC, which scored the game’s first 13 points and led 20-9 after the first quarter, opened the second with three consecutive turnovers, including two from Watkins. The Wildcats reeled off six straight points.

Arizona capitalized late in the second quarter during a rare break for Watkins, who went to the bench with 3:32 left. When Breya Cunningham tied the game at 25-25, Watkins stood up from the bench and headed to the scorer’s table. Then Bigby knocked down a three. Watkins calmly took a seat.

USC won its first Pac-12 tournament game since 2021. The Trojans haven’t won the tournament title since 2014.

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