By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — JuJu Watkins was able to rally Southern California into the lead early in the fourth quarter Friday night against Oregon State. It was up to the rest of her Trojan teammates to make sure they held on for the win.
Watkins scored 28 points, but none in the final 9:50. Kayla Padilla connected for two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and the defense got a couple of crucial late stops as ninth-ranked USC defeated Oregon State 56-54 and dealt the Beavers their first loss.
“I think one of the best parts of our team is everyone who steps onto the floor is a threat both offensively and defensively. So when someone is struggling, the next person steps up and that person happened to be me in terms of a shooting tonight,” said Padilla, who had 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and has scored in double figures in three of the last four games.
Watkins is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 27.0 points per game. She scored the Trojans’ first nine points and then had a run of nine unanswered points in the second half to get USC (11-1, 1-1 Pac-12) back in the game.
There was a four-minute stretch though during the fourth quarter when Watkins wasn’t on the floor due to fatigue.
Even though Watkins missed her last six shots, and was 11 of 33 for the game, she had two blocked shots, an offensive rebound and an assist on Padila’s jumper from the perimeter that gave USC a 56-51 advantage with 2:17 remaining.
It would be the Trojans last basket though. Oregon State got within a basket on a 3-point play by Rees with 1:34 remaining. It had a chance to send it into overtime, but Raegan Beers had a layup blocked by Rayah Marshall with one tick on the clock to preserve the win.
“I wouldn’t consider myself like an all offensive player. When it comes down to it, I’m able to make plays and basically do whatever I need to do,” Watkins said. “What was good about tonight is that it was a gritty win.”
Talia von Oelhoffen led Oregon State (12-1, 1-1) with 18 points and Donovyn Hunter added 13.
“USC did a nice job making life tough around the rim for us. But I thought we got a lot of good looks and we executed well for a relatively young team,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said.
A pair of free throws by von Oelhoffen put Oregon State up 42-36 with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter before Watkins took control with nine straight points to give the Trojans a 45-42 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Watkins’ run included two baskets that were the result of USC’s defense forcing turnovers. The best series of plays came at the start of the run. After Roxane Makolo forced a turnover in the paint, Watkins grabbed the loose ball, drove down the court on a fast break and drew a foul while making a layup. She made the free throw to complete the 3-point play.
“JuJu is special. She’s going to get her points. I thought we made her work, but she was timely in her scoring, and that was a big run,” Rueck said.
Oregon State regained the lead with five straight points but a 3-pointer by McKenzie Forbes put the Trojans back on top for good.
Oregon State: Beers came in averaging a double-double, but had only eight points and six rebounds after getting into early foul trouble.
USC: The Trojans won despite going 22 of 68 from the field, their third straight game where they have shot under 35%. In two Pac-12 games, their shooting rate is 32.8%,
Oregon State: At No. 2 UCLA on Sunday.
USC: Host Oregon on Sunday.