McKenzie Forbes scores 26, No. 5 USC beats No. 2 Stanford 74-61 to win Pac-12 Tournament title

LAS VEGAS (AP) — JuJu Watkins was billed as Southern California’s headliner in Las Vegas, but McKenzie Forbes owned the spotlight in the Pac-12 Tournament championship.

Forbes scored 26 points and No. 5 USC beat No. 2 Stanford 74-61 on Sunday to win the title and earn the soon-to-be-disbanded conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

The Trojans (26-5) played in the championship game for the first time since 2014, when they also defeated Stanford. That was their only other tournament title.

“I’ve never felt like this. It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Forbes, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Forbes, who came in averaging 13.1 points per game, found success whether she was attacking the rim, hitting mid-range jumpers or firing 3-pointers. The senior transfer from Harvard finished 11 of 21 from the floor, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range, and had five rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Forbes transferred to USC to play for the one person she said has always believed in her during her college career, Trojans coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whom she first played under at Cal before moving to the Ivy League.

“To be able to win this championship with her is the greatest feeling in the world,” Forbes said. “I never lost faith. A lot of people thought some of my decisions were crazy, that it wouldn’t turn out well. But I believed in myself and I’m proud of myself and now here I am.”

Rayah Marshall had 18 rebounds and 10 points for the Trojans, while Kayla Padilla scored 13 points.

Watkins, USC's standout freshman, had a frustrating game, finishing with a career-low nine points on 2-of-15 shooting.

Gottlieb said Watkins' struggles provided a chance for her team to prove in a big moment how well-rounded it is.

“While we have players playing roles — we have hoopers,” said Gottlieb, who is in her third season at USC.

Cameron Brink led the Cardinal (28-5) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Kiki Iriafen added 18. The frontcourt duo combined for 61% of Stanford’s scoring.

“We fought our best. Shots didn’t fall for us,” Brink said. “We gambled on some people on defense.”

USC opened the game on a 13-6 spurt, ignited by back-to-back 3s from Padilla, and took a 22-17 lead after the first quarter. The Trojans shut down Stanford's passing lanes and took advantage of five turnovers by converting them into 12 points.

As Watkins struggled in the first half — getting her only two points on free throws, missing all five shot attempts and committing three turnovers — it was Forbes guiding the offense. She scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting while playing the entire first half.

After trailing by eight in each of their first two games of the tournament, the Cardinal outscored Cal and Oregon State by a combined 43-18 in the third quarter. On Sunday, the Trojans led by nine at halftime, and the teams each scored 13 points in the third quarter, as USC’s physical prowess proved to be too much for the Cardinal.

Watkins' first field goal of the game, midway through the third quarter, gave the Trojans a 13-point lead.

“Today was their day,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “It wasn’t that we were so bad. I thought they were very good.”


USC: After averaging just 3.7 turnovers per game through her first 23 contests, Watkins has averaged 5.8 per game over her last seven — including 6.3 in the tournament.

Stanford: After ranking first in the nation in rebounding margin (14.0), the Cardinal were outrebounded 48-28, including 18-6 on the offensive glass.


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