Freshman gives USC a boost

Southern California guard JuJu Watkins (12) celebrates after a 93-42 win against Le Moyne in an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Southern California guard JuJu Watkins (12) celebrates after a 93-42 win against Le Moyne in an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Stellar freshman Juju Watkins has helped Southern California climb the AP Top 25 to the team's best ranking in 29 years.

The Trojans moved up to sixth in The Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday, its highest mark since the 1994 season when they reached No. 4. Watkins has been a huge reason why, already with three 30-point-plus games this season to match the school record for freshmen held by Trojan greats Lisa Leslie and Paula McGee.

"We had a challenging schedule early and we met those challenges," USC Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "Obviously Juju is so phenomenal, to see her adapt to the college game and adapt as quickly is so impressive."

South Carolina remained the unanimous choice at No. 1 from the 36-member national media panel. The Gamecocks cruised to two easy wins over the Thanksgiving holiday.

UCLA, Stanford, Iowa and N.C. State round out the top five.

UCLA, Stanford and Iowa all had successful runs in holiday tournaments last week. The Bruins beat UConn for the first time in school history, topping the Huskies in the inaugural Cayman Islands Classic.

The Wolfpack knocked off another top-five opponent, routing then-No. 3 Colorado in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coach Wes Moore's squad has gone from being unranked in the preseason poll to fifth.

"We were picked to finish eighth in the ACC, and we weren't ranked two weeks ago," Moore said. "It's what I've been telling them: 'Stay hungry, stay hungry and keep doing what you've been doing.' Right now, they're putting the team first, and not caring who gets the credit."

Colorado fell into a tie for seventh with LSU. The Buffaloes knocked off the then-No. 1 Tigers to start the season.

Virginia Tech is ninth and Texas 10th. The Longhorns host UConn on Sunday in the Jimmy V Classic. The Huskies, who are once again beset by injuries, dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since Jan. 3, 2022.

POLL POINTS

Princeton entered the Top 25 for the second consecutive year. The Tigers, who were ranked in the preseason last year before falling out, topped Oklahoma before falling to Indiana. Princeton's only other loss this season was a three-point defeat at UCLA.

It is the third consecutive season that the Tigers have been ranked for at least one week.

Marquette jumped into the poll at No. 23 after wins over Boston College and Arkansas. The ranking comes nearly a year to the date of the Golden Eagles last appearance in the Top 25 after they had a successful run at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Washington State and Oklahoma fell out of the rankings.

CHALLENGE WEEK

The inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge will take place this week with some marquee matchups that include No. 18 Notre Dame against No. 20 Tennessee; No. 9 Virginia Tech against No. 7 LSU; and No. 24 North Carolina playing top-ranked South Carolina.

  photo  South Carolina guard MiLaysia Fulwiley drives for a layup against Mississippi Valley State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Columbia, S.C., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. South Carolina won 101-19. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
 
 
  photo  UCLA's Kiki Rice brings the ball up the floor as UConn's Ashlynn Shade watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Cayman Islands Classic in George Town, Cayman Islands, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kevin Morales)
 
 

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