USC's JuJu Watkins explodes for 51, keys upset of Stanford

JuJu Watkins goes for 51 points, setting USC record in upset of Stanford (2:14)

JuJu Watkins scores 51 points on 14-of-26 shooting as No. 15 USC defeats No. 4 Stanford 67-58. (2:14)

STANFORD, Calif. -- On Sunday night, USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb got a call from a security guard asking whether to kick freshman guard JuJu Watkins out of the gym. Watkins was getting shots up following an off-night in the Trojans' crushing three-point loss at home to Washington, their third defeat in four games.

"No," Gottlieb told the security guard. "Let Ju be Ju."

Fast-forward to Friday night, and Watkins didn't just find her shot again -- she cemented her status as the freshman of the year front-runner and even inserted herself into the player of the year conversation. On No. 4 Stanford's home floor, and against the winningest coach in the sport in Tara VanDerveer, Watkins dropped 51 points on 14-for-26 shooting from the field to lift the No. 15 Trojans over the Cardinal 67-58 in the teams' final regular-season Pac-12 meeting.

Watkins' performance, the first 50-point game in Division I this season, broke a school record and marked the second-most points in a Pac-12 game, behind only Kelsey Plum's 57 against Utah in 2017.

Watkins made her presence felt all over the court. In addition to her four steals and two assists, she finished with 11 rebounds, making her the only Division I freshman in the past 25 seasons with 50 points and 10 rebounds and the first player this season with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The performance was so spectacular that by the second half the Maples Pavilion crowd couldn't help but watch and react in awe as Watkins hit shot after shot, no matter her place on the floor or what defensive scheme Stanford threw her way.

"Every time I scored, all I heard was oooooh," Watkins said. "It wasn't even like a boo. I was like, 'All right.' It was crazy."

Watkins scored 76% of USC's points, the highest percentage scored by a player in the past 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only three other players got on the board for the Trojans -- the same number of USC post players who fouled out by the 4:02 mark of the fourth quarter.

Stanford and Colorado now occupy the top two spots in the Pac-12 standings at 8-2, while USC improved to 5-4.

Gottlieb saw the buildup of something special for Watkins in the days since the loss to Washington. Watkins was disappointed with her individual production, scoring 19 points on 8-for-27 shooting, among her worst point totals in conference play. She said she had trouble sleeping after the game.

For Gottlieb, it's Watkins' demeanor, just as much as her on-court skill, that sets her apart.

"All week I said, 'This kid is different,'" Gottlieb said. "She's special, the way she takes coaching, the way she's a teammate, the way she holds herself accountable, the way she raises her level. So I did not predict this, but I think that what is so special about her is everything inside, and then obviously it came out today in a way that, if you love basketball, I don't know how you're not blown away."

On Friday in Maples -- where Watkins recalled sitting in the stands years before on her official visit as a recruit before ultimately choosing USC -- Gottlieb was relieved when Watkins' first 3-point attempt went in. The freshman had been in a bit of a slump and hadn't made more than two 3s in each of her previous eight games. She finished 6-for-11 from deep Friday night, surpassing the Stanford's team total (4-for-15).

Stanford tried multiple defenders on Watkins to try to slow her down, but it was to no avail. That, coupled with the Cardinal's offensive struggles, led to their first home loss of the season.

With the score tied at 31 at the half, Watkins saw that she had 25, realizing she could get 50. She then scored USC's first 15 points of the second half to put it ahead by double figures, enough of a cushion to help the Trojans withstand a late Cardinal run in the fourth quarter.

"Once she got going," VanDerveer said of Watkins, "the basket got really big for her."

Watkins' scoring from the field tapered off in the final 15 minutes, but she converted 13 of 15 free throws in the second half. By game's end, she had drawn 16 fouls and took 19 free throws.

It was the sort of individual performance that rarely, if ever, happens against Stanford -- and at Stanford, no less. Dating to the turn of the century, the most a player had scored against the Cardinal was 44, from Plum.

Watkins, though, is only 19 games into her collegiate career.

"I think it probably goes right up there at the top," VanDerveer said when asked if this was the best freshman performance she has seen. "Yep, she's very talented."

Added Gottlieb: "You come in with the best player, and our players battled and did what we needed to do, so I'm most proud of the win and how this team was able to do this tonight. I'll never forget this."