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JuJu Watkins has gotten a taste of March Madness, and wants more next season

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — JuJu Watkins sobbed following USC’s Elite Eight loss to UConn but her tears weren’t so much about the end of the NCAA Tournament run for the Trojans.

The talented freshman was sad it was the last game with her teammates until next season.

“I have the best teammates in the world,” she said, her voice trailing off as she wept.

An AP first-team All-American, Watkins averaged 27 points this season, second only to Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who set the game’s all-time Division I scoring record this season.

Watkins showed she could be the heir apparent to Clark once the Iowa sensation departs to the WNBA after this season.

In the final game of her freshman season, an 80-73 loss to the Huskies, Watkins finished with 29 points. During the game, she broke the single-season freshman scoring record, which was 898 points set in 1983 by Tina Hutchinson at San Diego State.

Watkin’s final tally this season was 920.

“The record is great. Just the moments that I’ve got to spend with this team have meant everything to me,” she said. “I’m just excited for next year.”

Watkins made a splash in her college debut with 32 points in an 83-74 victory over Ohio State. She scored a season-high 51 points in a 67-58 win over Stanford on Feb. 2.

In the Sweet 16, she took control in the final moments, driving the length of the floor for a go-ahead three-point play with 3:13 left and the Trojans went on to beat Baylor 74-70. Watkins finished with 30 points and pushed USC into its first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years.

USC senior McKenzie Forbes marveled at her young teammate.

“It’s really rare that you get a superstar that can come in. She’s selfless. She’s mature. She’s a winner. She only cares about winning. She’s (expletive) 18 years old. Sorry. Excuse my language,” Forbes said. “Seriously, I would want to be her teammate every day of the week. I truly mean that. I think this program couldn’t be in better hands than with her.”

The Elite Eight was as far as the Trojans could get in the tournament, stopped by a determined UConn team and star Paige Bueckers. The Huskies made it tough on Watkins by double-teaming her effectively.

“For her to have the year she had as a freshman, fearless, confident, one of the best players in the country, she’s got a lot to build on,” Bueckers said. “I know getting here, feeling this loss, we’ve been a part of it, it’s very motivating. It lets you build experience on how to be better, how to learn from it.”

Watkins, a hometown kid who went to Sierra Canyon in Los Angeles, was one of several high-profile freshmen this season, including Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo and Texas’ Madison Booker.

With Hollywood as a backdrop, Watkins captured the Los Angeles spotlight. She’s even featured in a television commercial with Joel Embiid for AT&T that showcases her distinctive bun hairstyle — one of several endorsement deals she’s landed.

But it’s the game that motivates her.

“I think just coming up short, that adds a lot of fuel to the fire for the next couple years,” she said. “I’m just excited to go back home and get in the gym now. I’m really focused on learning from this season as a whole, things I can improve on.”


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