The USC Trojans rely so much on JuJu Watkins for their offense. This isn’t the wrong way for the Trojans to approach each game. This is their superstar. This is their leader. This is the person they want to have the ball when the game is on the line, when the team needs a basket.
Basketball wisdom contains a lot of different truths. One is that shooters shoot. Just because you miss a few doesn’t mean you stop shooting. JuJu knows this, and it has usually paid off. She might miss four out of five or six out of eight, but then she’ll hit three shots and compensate for it. USC entered Sunday’s game against Washington with a 14-3 record. The formula has been working.
Sunday, it finally did not. We finally saw a game in which Watkins started slowly, never found her rhythm, and kept missing as USC failed to play catch-up. Watkins has had some other low-percentage shooting games, but not in games when USC regularly trailed. The Trojans led for most of those other games, and Watkins then scored late-game points to put her team over the top. This was Watkins’ first true clunker of the whole season, not bad for a freshman in late January.
Nevertheless, this was a clunker. It did happen. Watkins missed 19 field goal attempts, finishing 8 for 27 with only two free throw attempts in a 62-59 loss to Washington. The fact that Watkins could not get to the foul line and create easy points for herself — and her team — is as important as the bad shooting numbers. Getting to the foul line reduces the need to hit 3-pointers and jump shots against good, tough defense. Getting to the stripe is the pathway Watkins needs to find more often.
Watkins and teammate McKenzie Forbes were a combined 11 of 37 from the field. This lack of offense wasted a good defensive performance in which USC forced 22 Washington turnovers and certainly played well enough to win.
Lindsay Gottlieb can use this game as the basis for teaching JuJu Watkins how to find different ways of scoring and creating opportunities for teammates. Kayla Padilla hit six 3-pointers for USC, but got only nine shot attempts. Feeding the hot hand needs to become more a part of this team’s offensive identity as the season continues.