Southern California players celebrate after defeating Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Pac-12 tournament Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

Freshman guard JuJu Watkins was expected to be the star in Las Vegas, but grad student forward McKenzie Forbes took the spotlight in the Pac-12 Tournament championship, scoring 26 points as No. 5 USC defeated No. 2 Stanford 74-61.  This win secured USC’s first tournament championship since 2014, where they also defeated Stanford. This is their second tournament title.

In the beginning of the game, USC started strong with a 13-6 run, caused by two consecutive three-pointers from grad student guard Kayla Padilla. USC shut down passing lanes for Stanford, taking advantage of 12 points from five turnovers. By the end of the first quarter, they were leading 22-17.

Watkins struggled in the first half, only scoring two points from free throws, missing all five of her shots, and committing three turnovers. Forbes stepped up, scoring 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first half.

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Despite trailing by eight points in their previous tournament games, Stanford managed to dominate the third quarter against Cal and Oregon State, outscoring them 43-18 combined. However, against USC, they were down by nine points at halftime and both teams scored 13 points in the third quarter. The physical strength of USC proved too much for Stanford.

Midway through the third quarter, Watkins finally scored her first field goal of the game, extending USC’s lead to 13 points.

Southern California center Clarice Akunwafo (34) grabs a rebound over Stanford forward Nunu Agara (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Pac-12 tournament Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

Forbes, who usually scores 13.1 points per game, showcased her skills with 11-of-21 shooting from the field, including 4-of-8 from beyond the three-point line. She also contributed five rebounds, three steals, and two assists. Forbes transferred to USC to play under Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who had previously coached her at Cal.  Additionally, Forbes earned the Pac-12 tournament most valuable player award.

“I’ve never felt like this. It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Forbes (

Junior forward Rayah Marshall grabbed 18 rebounds and scored 10 points for USC while Padilla added 13 points. Despite Watkins struggles, USC demonstrated its depth and resilience. Gottlieb emphasized that her team consists of versatile players who can step up when needed.

“While we have players playing roles — we have hoopers,” Coach Gottlieb said (

Stanford senior forward Cameron Brink led her team with 19 points and 10 rebounds, with junior forward Kiki Iriafen adding 18 points. However, Stanford was outrebounded 48-28 by USC, including a large deficit on the offensive boards.

Overall, USC earned a victory based on their strong performance. along with their physicality proving too much for Stanford to handle.

USC will now wait for the NCAA Selection Show on March 17th to find out who and where they will be playing next in the postseason.