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USC freshman JuJu Watkins was visibly emotional after her team suffered a 80-73 loss to UConn in the Elite Eight on Monday. The program had not made it this far since 1994, but now the journey is over -- or perhaps it is just beginning. 

When Watkins started to cry after the final buzzer, UConn's Paige Bueckers took some time to console her.

Bueckers went through a similar situation in 2021, when her incredible freshman season led her to 11 major awards, including the Naismith Trophy that both she and Watkins are in contention for this year. The Huskies made it to the Final Four that year, but they did not make it to the championship game.

"I think success is a process," Bueckers said. "It's tough, especially as a freshman, to be leading your team like that, have no experience in this sort of environment, on this stage, and lead your team. You feel a lot of pressure. But for her to have the year she had as a freshman -- fearless, confident, one of the best players in the country. She's got a lot to build on."

Bueckers' career has unfortunately been a bumpy ride due to injuries, including a torn ACL that sidelined her all of last year. While healing from the torn ACL, she was forced to watch her team fall to Ohio State in the Sweet 16. However, everything felt just right Monday as her team returned to the Final Four

"Today was one of the most rewarding feelings I've ever felt in my life," Bueckers said.

Watkins is only 18 years old and her future is very bright. She averaged over 27 points per game this season, and against UConn she notched the highest-scoring freshman season in Division I women's college basketball history. 

"I know getting here, feeling this loss, we've been a part of it, it's very motivating," Bueckers said. "It lets you build experience on how to be better, how to learn from it. So just take the good, continue to build on that, and focus on what you need to work on and do that, too."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma also briefly talked to Watkins after the game. When asked about the exchange, Auriemma first joked that he told Watkins she needed to move to the pro game to remove some of UConn's competition for next season.

"She was very emotional," Auriemma said. "She was crying, like all competitors. She put her heart and soul into this. I just reminded her, 'You had an amazing year. Your team wouldn't be here without you.'"

As for Watkins, she was still feeling the emotions during USC's postgame press conference. However, when asked if she had fulfilled everything she sought after during her first year at USC, Watkins didn't have to think too long about her answer.

"Yeah, I think everything and more," Watkins said. "Of course, we fell short in the end, but like Lindsay [Gottlieb] said, it's been a great ride."