Top-Seeded USC Women’s Basketball Takes 80-73 Loss To UConn In NCAA Elite Eight


PORTLAND, ORE. — In the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in 30 years, the top-seeded USC women’s basketball team came up against a hot-shooting UConn squad and saw its storybook season come to a close in an 80-73 loss to the No. 3 seeded Huskies tonight in the NCAA Regional Final in Portland, Ore. USC led things early, only to see UConn pick up its pace and mount a back-breaking 11-0 run in the fourth quarter. The Trojans, who reached their highest national ranking since 1986 this season at No. 3 in the land, were making their fourth-ever Elite Eight appearance. USC closes down its impressing 2023-24 campaign with a 29-6 overall record.

At the end of the action, USC’s JuJu Watkins, McKenzie Forbes and Rayah Marshall were named to the Portland Region 3 All-Tournament Team. 

A game of runs in the first half, USC and UConn were all even 33-33 at halftime, with the Trojans shooting 33 percent and the Huskies at 40 percent from the floor through those first 20 minutes. USC was up on the boards 21-19, and each team had landed three 3-pointers apiece. USC went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the first half, ahead of UConn’s 4-of-5 effort from the stripe. The Huskies continued to heat up, finishing out the game at 48.3 percent and ahead on the boards 42-41. USC wrapped at 32.9 percent from the floor and took its first lost of the year when scoring 70 or more points.

The Trojans were led by JuJu Watkins’ game-high 29 points, and the freshman broke the national record for single-season scoring by a freshman in finishing out her first year as a Trojan with 920 points. She also recorded her eighth double-double with 10 rebounds. Rayah Marshall also had a double-double — her 14th of the season and 34th career — with 11 points and 11 boards, while McKenzie Forbes scored 24 points and hit five 3-pointers for the Trojan cause. UConn received 28 points and 10 rebounds Paige Bueckers along with 24 points from Aaliyah Edwards. 

A McKenzie Forbes 3-pointer nudged the Trojans ahead early, 5-2, although the Huskies got one away a couple minutes later at 7-6. JuJu Watkins delivered a jumper to spark an 8-0 USC rally to lead it 15-6 at 3:53 after three-point plays converted by Watkins and Forbes. UConn replied with a 9-0 run that locked it even at 15-15 with 1:05 on the clock, and then Forbes tugged the Trojans back ahead before the close of the quarter to make it a 17-15 USC advantage. USC would struggle to get the ball to drop in the opening stretch of the second, while the Huskies scored eight straight points to take their first lead and go up 24-19 four minutes into the frame. Watkins broke that up with a 3-pointer from the top, then planted another to get USC one back at 26-25 with 4:40 to go. UConn pushed out ahead 31-25, and USC was in a 33-27 hole with 1:20 remaining in the half. USC got back to work, with Rayah Marshall delivering down low, then nabbing a steal and hitting two free throws the other way. Watkins earned a trip to the stripe next, snarling things up 33-33 before Kaitlyn Davis wrapped the half by taking a charge to keep things even for halftime. 

UConn kicked down the gates of the second half with another 8-0 surge before Forbes dropped her third 3-pointer of the night. She’d nail another a couple minutes later to make it a 45-40 margin at 5:15, but the Huskies pushed back and went up 52-40 with 4:15 on the clock. Undeterred, the Trojans followed with a three-point play from Watkins and two cool free throws from Forbes, carving the deficit down to 52-45 at 3:05 The final minute was a flurry, as USC wrapped 3-pointers from Taylor Bigby and Kayla Padilla around a Husky three, with Padilla punching hers in just before the buzzer to make it a 55-51 scoreline entering the fourth. An early three-point play by UConn had USC in a 58-51 hole, but the Trojans wouldn’t back down. Watkins answered with a three-point play of her own, and then another Watkins bucket was followed by a Forbes three, and the teams were locked up even for the fifth time at 59-59 with 7:30 on the clock. It was a one-point game with 4:30 to go thanks to a 4-0 run from Watkins that had USC in reach at 65-64, although UConn fired back with an 11-0 response to lead it 76-64 with 1:25 remaining. Forbes got USC a boost with a 3-pointer just under the minute mark, pulling it to a nine-point game, and the Watkins delivered two free throws to make it 76-69 with 47 seconds on the clock. UConn was 0-for-4 from the line in the next 20 seconds, and Marshall laid one in for USC to get it to 76-71 with 18 seconds left. UConn finally found success from the line a second later, pulling ahead 78-71, and USC wound up short on time to make up ground, falling in a final 80-73 decision.

NOTABLE:

– With a game-high 29 points tonight, FR JuJu Watkins finishes the season with 920 points to become the all-time freshman scoring leader in NCAA women’s basketball history. 

– Watkins also had 10 rebounds, recording her ninth double-double

– GS McKenzie Forbes made five 3-pointers tonight mark her 32nd game hitting at least one three this season.  

– Over the last five games, Forbes was 44.4 percent from 3-point range (20-for-45).

– With 11 points and 11 rebounds tonight, Rayah Marshall recorded her 15th double-double of the season and 35th of her career.

– She posted a double-double in seven of USC’s last nine games.

– USC fell when scoring 70 or more points in a game for the first time this season (22-1).

– USC was held to 32.9 percent shooting tonight, just the fifth game this season shooting under 33.0 percent.  

– USC had its eight-game winning streak snapped with the 80-73 loss tonight.

– At 29-6 overall, USC has recorded its most wins since going 31-5 in 1985-86 under head coach Linda Sharp.

 



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