JuJu Watkins (30 points), USC fend off Baylor to reach Elite Eight

Mar 30, 2024; Portland, OR, USA; Baylor Lady Bears guard Jada Walker (11) drives to the basket during the first half against USC Trojans guard Kayla Padilla (45) in the semifinals of the Portland Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. — JuJu Watkins scored 30 points, including nine of Southern California’s final 10 points, as the Trojans held off Baylor 74-70 Saturday in the Portland Regional semifinals.

Rayah Marshall contributed 11 points and 16 rebounds and McKenzie Forbes scored 14 points for No. 1 seed USC (29-5), which advances to Monday’s Elite Eight.

Sarah Andrews scored 17 points, Jada Walker added 15 and Dariana Littlepage-Buggs chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds for No. 5 seed Baylor (26-8).

Watkins scored nine straight points — the last seven from the foul line — over the final 3:13. The Trojans’ prize freshman had a poor shooting game, finishing 8-for-28 from the field. But she buried 12 of 13 free-throw attempts for the winners.

Neither team shot well. USC fired at 39.4 percent from the field (26-for-66) while Baylor converted at a 38.6 clip (27-for-70).

Baylor closed a six-point halftime deficit to 41-39 early in the third quarter, but Watkins drilled back-to-back 3s to make it 47-41. The Bears seized the lead at 50-49 on an Andrews trey with 2:55 left in the third. Baylor took a 57-53 edge into the final period.

To that point, Watkins had 21 points but on 7-for-24 shooting.

USC scored the first six points of the fourth quarter and regained the lead at 59-57 on a 3-pointer by Forbes. The teams battled back and forth, with Watkins converting a three-point play to push the Trojans in front 67-64 with 3:13 remaining. Watkins hit a pair at the line to make it 69-64 with 1:49 to play.

Andrews drilled a 3 to cut the margin to 69-67 with 1:38 to go. Neither team scored again until Watkins sank two foul shots to up the Trojans’ lead to 71-67 with 26.4 seconds on the clock.

Then it was Andrews, connecting again from beyond the arc to cut the difference to 71-70 with 22.8 seconds left. The Bears fouled Watkins, who drained two free throws to make it 73-70 with 19.5 ticks left. Andrews missed a long 3-point attempt and Marshall was fouled on the rebound. She split a pair at the line to make it 74-70 with 8.2 ticks left to seal the verdict.

Watkins scored 15 points as USC took a 37-31 lead into halftime. The Trojans’ meal ticket was 5-for-16 from the field.

Baylor’s problem in the first half was shooting. The Bears were 11-for-34 from the field (32.4 percent), including 3-for-12 from beyond the arc. No Baylor player had more than six points at the break.

–Kerry Eggers, Field Level Media

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