We said it before in our Freshman File, it will be said again today and will be reiterated in the future: JuJu Watkins is a special player. A one-of-one.
On Friday night, she single-handedly destroyed No. 4 Stanford, scoring 51 points for the 67-58 road win. No player has done that this year in college basketball, and no Trojan has done this ever.
While the women's game grows and evolves with shining stars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, Watkins is emerging as a sun. She shines brighter than everyone in college basketball—a player to admire if you're a fan, and someone to avoid if you're any other team in the Pac-12.
51.— USC Women's Basketball (@USCWBB) February 3, 2024
A new program record.
The most points by a D1 player this season.
Did we mention she’s a freshman? pic.twitter.com/xqdOpKSfk3
The numbers don't lie. Watkins didn't just stuff the stat sheet; she was the stat sheet. Scoring 51 points on 14-for-26 shooting from the field, 6-for-11 from three and 17-for-19 from the free throw line, along with grabbing 11 boards, Watkins overwhelmed the best team in the Pac-12. She was maniacal. Relentless. A brute force. As inevitable as the rising sun. At 18 years-old she was the best player on the floor, and the second-best wasn't anywhere near her galaxy.
In her postgame presser, USC head coach Lindsay 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, right? No one could 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.
At the start, it wasn’t clear this would be a special game, but it was evident Watkins was ready to play. Her first basket was exactly what Stanford wanted: good defense that forced her to go left on a 3-point attempt. It didn't matter.
She nailed the shot and opened up the scoring for USC. She hit her next 3-pointer in a similar fashion, heading left, ending up at the top of the key and drilling the bucket. Against a team as stacked and poised as Stanford, it usually takes more than a hot hand to overwhelm them and create a disadvantage.
Every bucket from JuJu Watkins' record-breaking outing at Stanford pic.twitter.com/AhbyuNmpg4— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 3, 2024
Slowly but surely, that's what started to happen. It wasn't Watkins stuck in double teams from Stanford’s tall, talented players, but the Cardinal struggling to deal with a way to stop Watkins from getting to her spots and scoring at will. Entering halftime, the game was all square at 31, and it was clear it would be a long night for the home team.
"It was just a great environment," Watkins said after the game. "I don't know. I think at halftime when I looked up I was like, damn, I have 25 points, I could get 50. And then it was crazy. That's all I could say."
Midway through the third quarter, Chloe Clardy was getting torched by Watkins. She scored every which way: transition 3-pointers, shots at the foul line, mid-range baskets, you name it. After a wing 3 gave USC an eight-point advantage, Watkins stuck her tongue out, wagging it like Michael Jordan used to do when he was in a zone. The crowd was now in a frenzy, understanding that something special was brewing right before their eyes.
But the job wasn't finished.
Watkins hit a tough 3 over Courtney Ogden to make it a two-possession game. She went on to hit a slew of free throws to ice the game. As she ran out the clock and let the ball bounce out of bounds, she jumped into her teammate's arms to celebrate the moment. USC defeated Stanford. Watkins had 51. The rest of her team had 16 points.
This is just the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a hall-of-fame career for Watkins. It's hard to say this is an, "I've arrived moment," as she's been in the public spotlight since high school. So, consider this more of a warning. Basketball may be a team game, but when you are JuJu Watkins, your competition might not matter. She can access a level of play only the ghosts of Basketball's past have attained.