LOS ANGELES – L.A. likes winners, duh.
L.A. likes women’s college basketball?
L.A. likes women’s college basketball.
Duh. Galen Center was filled to its gills Sunday afternoon, 10,258 fans of varying levels of celebrity (musical stars Chris Brown and Saweetie joined USC icon Cheryl Miller) in the “JuJu crowd,” as USC’s coach Lindsay Gottlieb called it.
They came to see the phenomenal freshman take and make 16 free throws.
Wait, that’s not right. They came to watch JuJu Watkins and her No. 9-ranked USC women’s squad face off with and ultimately take down the gutty big-time UCLA Bruins, to see her and her friends hand the No. 2 team in the nation its first loss, 73-65.
And they’d go home hearing echoes of Watkins’ “Fight on!” if their ears weren’t ringing from all those whistles.
There were 17 fouls assessed apiece last time these teams played, and even more this time. UCLA (14-1, 3-1 in Pac-12) was called for 32 personal fouls Sunday, nine more than its previous season high. Three Bruins fouled out. And the Trojans (13-1, 3-1) were whistled for 23 fouls, equaling their previous high.
Which is a stop-and-go shame, because as far as showcases go, this was everything you should expect from this Trojans-Bruins slugfest– er, matchup. It was the rockfight– er, down-to-the-wire thriller that we’ve now got seasons of precedent for.
It was the slog– star-studded drama wherein nothing came easy, where we got to see even Watkins sweat, leaving that proverbial everything on the court, unable even to walk off without help, she was cramping so badly.
Basketball, of course, is a game of adjustments.
So, naturally, USC coach Gottlieb’s team made the necessary tweaks after losing to UCLA, 71-64, on Dec. 30 in a sold-out Pauley Pavilion. They assigned Taylor Bigby to chase the dangerous Londynn Jones all over the court and collectively turned up the heat: “We stepped out today and were like, ‘We’re gonna be the aggressors,” Trojans guard McKenzie Forbes said. “We’re gonna be the ones causing turnovers, we’re gonna be the ones getting and-1s and hyping up the crowd.”
So, naturally, Bruins coach Cori Close will review the tape too – hold up the mirror, as she put it – and figure out how her side can muster and channel the necessary aggression next time: “It bothers me a lot that this game in the first half meant more to them than us,” Close said, pounding the table before her. “And that’s my job, to go and circle the wagons and get with our staff and figure out what our next right step is.”
So, naturally, the officials tasked with calling Sunday’s game, Bob Scofield, In’Fini Robinson and Teresa Turner, will review the tape and make the necessary adjustments too. Consider the circumstances and stop being so sensitive. Realize that the next of these crosstown tussles are likely to be even more rugged and rough and referee accordingly.
Let the women play. Get out of their way.
There’s a rhythm to the ruckus of a rivalry game, and tallying ticky-tack stuff is what really mucks it up, especially when the volume of calls seems to fluctuate.
“I just think the game really was hard to get in a rhythm,” said Close, who lost star guard Kiki Rice to a fifth foul after the officials convened and decided it would be a good idea to issue a double fouls on she and Bigby after the competitors tangled harmlessly with 59 seconds to play.
“It’s very hard for the team to go, ‘OK, it’s gonna be called this way, and we’re gonna adjust…’ Close said. “But it’s very, very difficult as player to come to that kind of rhythm. Period.”
It’s not as fun to watch, either, as great as Watkins (32 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals) is at free throws on top of everything else.
The Bruins shot 17 for 21 from the foul line Sunday, and USC wound up 24 for 32 at the stripe. So the trio in stripes, at least, got their money’s worth.
But all the fans who showed up Sunday, thousands of whom lined up hours before the game — including one gentlemen, who met the team in the morning outside of shootaround, telling Watkins he couldn’t sleep he was so excited — didn’t need the incessant stoppages.
They came to enjoy this energized era of winning women’s college basketball in L.A.
And most of all, to see the hoopers hoop.