Women’s basketball splits home series against Los Angeles schools

Stanford women’s basketball (20-3, 9-2 Pac-12) split their weekend series against the Pac-12 Los Angeles schools on Friday and Sunday. The Cardinal fell to No. 15 USC (15-4, 5-4 Pac-12) 67-58 after a 51-point game from USC freshman guard JuJu Watkins.

However, Stanford recovered on Sunday, dominating UCLA with an 80-60 score. With the win against UCLA, the Cardinal are now tied atop the Pac-12 standings with the Colorado Buffaloes (19-3, 9-2 Pac-12).

Stanford vs. USC

If you haven’t heard of JuJu Watkins before, you will soon see her name everywhere. Watkins, the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school and a former Stanford recruit, dominated Friday’s game by scoring over 75 percent of the Trojans’ points, shooting 6-9 from three and 17-19 from the line. 

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer praised Watkins on her dazzling performance. 

“You saw a great player out there. JuJu Watkins really had a great game,” VanDerveer said. “We could have survived her 51 points if we were running offense, not turning the ball over, getting on the board, and playing the way we’re capable of.” While disappointed, VanDerveer predicted a turnaround for Stanford on Sunday.

Stanford struggled with 13 turnovers and gave up 14 defensive rebounds. Senior forward Cameron Brink led the charge for the Cardinal with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks. Junior forward Kiki Iriafen scored 16 points and 9 rebounds.

In the highlgy anticipated matchup, both teams were physical from the start and kept a close game. At the end of the first quarter, Stanford held a 4-point lead. The score was tied 31-31 at the half.

The momentum shifted in the third quarter when Watkins outscored Stanford 15-11 and single-handedly led USC to a 13-point lead. 

While the Cardinal cut the lead to three with 3:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, they were unable to make a comeback. USC won with a final score of 67-58. 

USC forward McKenzie Forbes scored 12 points and had 5 rebounds to help the Trojans secure the victory. But it was Watkins who stole the show.

Watkins said performance was fueled by USC’s loss on Sunday to unranked Washington: “I haven’t been able to sleep this past week coming off of some losses. I have been in the gym 24/7 and it’s been helping my confidence a lot.”

“I think today was a product of all that hard work and staying focused,” said Watkins.

Watkins, who joined a storied history of women’s basketball legends at USC, said she’s only getting started: “I have a long way to go until I will consider myself in that category with Cheryl [Miller], Lisa [Leslie] and the greats.”

“I’m just soaking it all in, but honestly, we have a game on Sunday. So I’m going to take it all in and then back to the gym,” Watkins said.

USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb spoke highly of Watkins and her team’s performance. 

“We saw something that I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s unbelievable,” Gottlieb said. “[Watkin’s] demeanor from the second that game ended against Washington until now is what sets her apart to me more than these numbers. She’s special in the way she takes coaching, the way she’s a teammate, the way she holds herself accountable, the way she raises her level. If you love basketball, I don’t know how you’re not blown away.”

Stanford vs. UCLA

On Sunday, the Cardinal came back with a vengeance, defeating the No. 7 UCLA Bruins by a score of 80-60. UCLA was without center Lauren Betts, the former Stanford transfer who leads the Bruins in scoring and rebounding.

Stanford took advantage of Betts’s absence, starting with high-percentage looks at the rim on offense. The Cardinal scored 16 of their first 21 first quarter points in the paint. Kiki Iriafen scored a team-high 8 points in the first quarter, and helped Stanford secure a 9-point lead after ten minutes.

“Cam and Kiki put the team on their back and really ran the offense,” VanDerveer said.

The second quarter was more of the same, as the Cardinal scored 16 of their 24 points in the paint. Freshman forward Nunu Agara increased her scoring output, going three-for-three from the field and tallying 6 points. Along with Agara, Iriafen also added 6 more points to her total.

Defensively, Brink’s rim protection stunted the opposing offense: UCLA was unable to get clean looks at the rim when the 6’5″ senior was in the game.

“I’ve been playing defense on the perimeter a lot more,” Iriafen said. “It gives me confidence because if I get beat, I have someone [pointing to Brink] behind me to help me out.”

By the end of the half, Stanford built up a large 45-27 lead over the reeling Bruins.

The Cardinal continued to pour it on after halftime, extending their lead out to 30 points toward the end of the third quarter. Despite a late attempt by UCLA in the fourth quarter to cut into the deficit, it was too little too late, and Stanford won by a comfortable 20-point margin.

Stanford’s victory over UCLA comes on the heels of the devastating 67-58 loss to USC, where freshman guard JuJu Watkins put up 51 points for the Trojans.

“When we watched the video it was not pretty,” VanDerveer said. “Sometimes you just have to go with that loss and make it better, and we made it a lot better today.”

Up next, the Cardinal take on the Washington Huskies on Friday and the Washington State Cougars on Sunday. The games will be decisive in helping Stanford maintain their Pac-12 standing.

Tip-off against Washington is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT on Friday.