The most important number for USC women’s basketball in NCAA Tournament first-round game

The USC women’s basketball team begins the Women’s NCAA Tournament this Saturday afternoon on its home floor in the Galen Center, the first time the Trojans will host an NCAA Tournament game in Galen since the building opened nearly 20 years ago. It’s a special time for USC, coach Lindsay Gottlieb, superstar JuJu Watkins, and the rest of an overachieving team which won the Pac-12 Tournament and gained a No. 1 seed.

As USC prepares for its first-round game versus the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, the Trojans aren’t expected to be tested in this contest. It’s a 1 seed versus a 16 seed, after all. What should USC realistically try to get out of this game beyond a win? There’s one really big key, and there’s one number you should have in mind when thinking about that key point.

USC, if it wins on Saturday, would have to turn around on Monday and play another game against Michigan or Kansas. If you watched JuJu Watkins during the season, you know that in the games where she has more rest, she plays and shoots better. She always delivers on defense, but her better offensive games during the season usually came on Fridays and not Sundays. Her 51-point game against Stanford: Friday. Her excellent game versus Colorado: Friday. Her 8 of 27 shooting performance in the loss to Washington? Sunday. Her 6 of 32 shooting line at Oregon State? Sunday.

USC needs JuJu Watkins to be fresh for Monday. That means putting this game away at halftime or early in the third quarter, so that JuJu can get added rest for the Monday game.

The important number: 25. If JuJu Watkins doesn’t have to play more than 25 minutes, that would be a great result for USC. Watkins averages 34.3 minutes per game. Yes, she has had a long time to rest, but she needs her best game in the second round. She shouldn’t have to be at her very best against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. If JuJu can at least play fewer than 30 minutes, that would be good, but hitting 25 minutes — maybe 27 tops — would be especially encouraging for this team as it tries to handle the strain of playing two NCAA Tournament games in three days.

USC plays A&M-CC at 1:30 p.m. in Los Angeles on Saturday, with ESPN showing the game nationwide.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire