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Declan Walsh | | November 16, 2023

5 freshmen who showed out in women's basketball's opening week

JuJu Watkins highlights: 32 points, 5 assists in USC debut

Forget the bright lights, capable of derailing debuts for even the most heralded recruits. Both Hannah Hidalgo and MiLaysia Fulwiley had to begin their college careers in the City of Lights. 

College basketball’s first-ever Parisian showcase saw South Carolina run over Notre Dame, 100-71, setting the table for the Gamecocks’ high-powered offense and, remarkably, a historic week for freshmen in women’s college basketball — Notre Dame’s Hidalgo and USC’s Fulwiley combined for 48 points, getting praise from even NBA stars. 

Honoring the class of ‘23’s excellence, here’s a look five freshmen who starred in the opening week.

JuJu Watkins - Southern Cal

In the similarly bright lights of Las Vegas, America’s top-ranked freshman JuJu Watkins led USC through the good and the bad — Watkins was the only Trojan to score in the third quarter — during an upset victory over No. 7 Ohio State. 

Watkins’ sweet stroke, elite quickness and lanky 6-foot-2 inch frame left the Buckeyes scrambling as she poured in 32 points, five rebounds and six assists, setting the points record for a Trojan freshman. 

Her accuracy waned Friday as Southern Cal cruised out a defensive 67-51 win over always pesky Florida Gulf Coast, but Watkins flashed her potential as a high-volume perimeter shooter against Le Moyne, knocking down six of her eight 3-point attempts in a 35-point performance. 

POWER 10: South Carolina, Iowa lead new rankings

Hannah Hidalgo - Notre Dame

The first freshman to start on opening day for Notre Dame since 2020, Hidalgo blew past these lofty expectations and became a rare bright spot on a disappointing Paris excursion for the Irish. 

With a 25-24 lead through 10 minutes of action, Notre Dame appeared fully prepared to hang with the sixth-ranked Gamecocks, an illusion maintained by Hidalgo’s rising stardom as she totaled 13 points and a steal. 

Hidalgo couldn’t maintain quite so torrid a pace and Notre Dame lost contact with high-flying South Carolina, but the freshman still turned in an excellent performance with 31 points. A return stateside couldn’t slow her down either, again leading the Irish with 26 vs. NJIT on Sunday. 

Mikaylah Williams - LSU

As bemused LSU fans scroll through their opening night box score, just to make sure that 14-point loss to Colorado really happened, there are certainly a number of shaking heads and exasperated sights. 

Their returning preseason AP preseason All-American Angel Reese, along with heralded transfers Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow, combined to go just 12 for 35 from the field, but an iota of encouragement can be found in Mikaylah Williams. 

Ranked second nationally in this star-studded freshman class, Williams proved to have no issues adjusting to the college game, scoring a team-high 17 points, knocking down a 3 and snagging four boards. And with the Tigers facing with another stunning second-half deficit Wednesday against Kent State, Williams sent the Golden Flashes packing with 42 points, including a 5-for-8 mark from three and a perfect 7-for-7 clip at the line. 

MiLaysia Fulwiley - South Carolina

While Fulwiley is the only player on this not to start on opening day, a ridiculous statistical performance made it nearly impossible for coach Dawn Staley to keep her off the floor — trailing only Kamilla Cardoso with 26 minutes, Fulwiley managed 17 points, six assists and six steals against Notre Dame. 

Her time in the French capital peaked with a nifty behind-the-back turned up-and-under layup, one of the better finishes you’ll see at any level of basketball, but she consistently used her elite athleticism to burn the Irish in transition. 

Fulwiley saw less of the floor in another dominant South Carolina win over Maryland, still making the most of her time on both ends with 12 points to go with two steals and two plucks. 

Betzalys Delgado - Nicholls State

Spearheading what appears to be one of the most improved programs in all of college basketball, it’s hard to find a more valuable freshman than Delgado. 

Her Nicholls State squad finished with just five wins a year ago, ranking fifth-last in adjusted efficiency per HerHoopStats, but 11 points, five rebounds and six assists from Delgado led the Colonels to a 69-66 win over Tulane, top-100 team last year — fellow Nicholls freshman Britiya Curtis, who managed 18 points and eight rebounds against the Green Wave, warrants a shoutout as well. 

Delgado stuffed the box score later against SMU (10-8-8), a game Nicholls led at the half before fading late, and all of this success comes amidst a notably poor spell of perimeter shooting. If she can find the range, she has all the tools to strike fear into her Southland conference foes.

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