ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Arizona women’s basketball eliminated from final Pac-12 Tournament by No. 5 USC, JuJu Watkins

Mar 7, 2024, 10:56 PM

USC Arizona Basketball...

Arizona forward Breya Cunningham (25) shoots over Southern California center Rayah Marshall (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

(AP Photo/Ian Maule)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — JuJu Watkins scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds and No. 5 Southern California women’s basketball defeated Arizona 65-62 in a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game on Thursday night.

USC (24-5) held off the pesky Wildcats, who led by four with 3:28 left in the third quarter and made it a one-possession game with 10 seconds left.

But after Helena Pueyo’s 3-pointer made it 63-60, USC’s Kaitlyn Davis scored on a layup to push the Trojans’ lead to five and put the game out of reach. That was the final Pac-12 game for Arizona with a move to the Big 12 coming.

Rayah Marshall had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Trojans.

Pueyo finished with 19 points to lead Arizona (17-15), while Skylar Jones and Breya Cunningham each had 14.

“We’ve had seven (players) and haven’t had a lot of bodies to practice, but we go out and we fight,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “I told our players today we won every quarter but the first quarter. The first five minutes we got punched and that was the difference in the game. That’s one of the reasons we lost; we won all the other three quarters.”

After being outscored 20-9 in the first quarter, the Wildcats outscored USC 53-45 the rest of the way.

USC scored the game’s first 13 points. The Trojans went on to hit 80% (8 of 10) in the first quarter and open a 20-7 lead, with 10 coming from Watkins.

But the Wildcats quickly flipped the script in the second quarter by using a 12-2 run to pull within one. By the midway point, the only points for the Trojans came from one free throw apiece by Marshall and Watkins.

But before the Wildcats could steal the lead, Trojans reserve Taylor Bigby nailed her second and third 3-pointers of the game to give USC a cushion.

USC, which led 30-25 halftime, shot 52.4% (11 of 21) from the field in the first half while limiting Arizona to 29.4% (10 of 34).

Arizona took its first lead midway through the third quarter, 36-34, after opening the second half on an 11-4 run. But the Trojans used a 12-4 run to close the quarter and take a four-point lead into the fourth.

“Our team continues to impress me with finding ways to win,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “I think we’re at our best when we get contributions everywhere. I thought we ended up being toughest when toughness was needed.”

USC’s Aaliyah Gayles was honored with the Tammy Blackburn Inspiration Award before the game. The award, created to honor Blackburn who has battled breast cancer since 2017, honors a Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball student-athlete, coach or staff member who exhibits courage, resilience and unbreakable spirit in overcoming adversity in their life.

As a senior in high school in 2022, Gayles was shot several times at a house party. The Las Vegas native suffered fractures in both arms and both legs and underwent multiple surgeries. Gayles checked into her first game as a member of the Trojans on Nov. 10.

“Obviously we have so much respect for Tammy and all that she does for our game, what she’s been through,” Gottlieb said. “And to have Aaliyah be the first recipient for that award means a ton for our program.”

Arizona will await word from the selection committee with hopes of getting an invite to the NCAA Tournament, and USC will face either UCLA or Utah in a semifinal on Friday.

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Arizona women’s basketball eliminated from final Pac-12 Tournament by No. 5 USC, JuJu Watkins