LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 6: JuJu Watkins #12 of the USC Trojans is seen during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Naismith Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena on November 6, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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USC Freshman Ties Basketball Legend’s Scoring Record

The University of Southern California women's basketball team struck gold with one of its freshmen.

Last week, JuJu Watkins — USC's star freshman guard — put up 31 points along with 12 rebounds in the No. 8-ranked Trojans' nail-biting 71-70 win over Penn State. In addition to Watkins' performance being her third 30-point scoring night of the 2023 NCAA season, it also tied her with Lisa Leslie for the most games scoring 30 points by a freshman in USC women's basketball history. Leslie was a two-time WNBA champion, three-time WNBA MVP, four-time Olympic gold medalist, USC basketball legend, and one of the best women's basketball players of all time.

And while it took Leslie her entire freshman season to secure three 30-point scoring performances, Watkins did it in five games.

Watkins' most recent 30-point performance included her draining a half-court buzzer-beater before halftime, and it was capped off by her scoring seven straight points with less than two minutes left to win them the game.

Although most of NCAA women's basketball probably hadn't expected this elite form so soon out of Watkins — who was born and raised in Los Angeles, and was the nation's No. 1 recruit in her 2022 class — head coach Lindsay Gottlieb saw this coming once Watkins arrived on campus.

"She's special," Gottlieb said of Watkins. "There's no more adjectives I can use. She keeps showing me new things. The most telling thing is how much her teammates freaking love her, because when she gets knocked down and battered, they're going to play better, because they understand how hard she works and what a great teammate she is."

While Watkins' scoring has been the big story for the undefeated USC squad this season, she's quick to credit her teammates for her success.

"I think it just goes back to the team," Watkins said when asked about what has propelled her early-season performances. "They put so much trust in me. Even when I'm turning the ball over — tonight wasn't great for me — but they still believed in me and continued to empower me."

Considering that the Trojans still have almost an entire season ahead of them, it likely won't be long before we see Watkins break Leslie's 30-point freshman scoring record. Once that happens, the question will become whether Watkins can lead two-time national champion USC to a Pac-12 conference championship, as Leslie did in 1994. We wouldn't put it past her.

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