March 25, 2024 

India Otto grabs the spotlight following USC’s opening-round win

The senior captain is the longest-tenured player on the roster

Freshman sensation JuJu Watkins has been in the spotlight all season long for the USC Trojans, and understandably so. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year has been setting all kinds of records this season, surpassing Trojans legend Cheryl Miller for many of them.

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But when the Trojans left the court following their 87-55 win over Texas A&M–Corpus Christi in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it was India Otto who received the loudest cheers from the home crowd.

The senior captain had played a grand total of seven minutes before Saturday’s game, and with the Trojans comfortably ahead late in the fourth quarter, head coach Lindsay Gottlieb motioned for Otto to head to the scorers’ table. The crowd erupted louder than they had been all game as they saw Otto ready to check in.

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By the time the final buzzer sounded, Otto was 2-for-2 from the field, scoring on a drive for her first bucket and then knocking down a 3 for the second. Following the game, Watkins was almost more excited for Otto’s contributions than the fact that USC got the win.

“Those are the best points I’ve seen all season. I was more excited for her than the win. Well, no, I’m not gonna say that,” Watkins told the media with a laugh. “She deserves it. We see her score every day in practice. So to see here come out and just, I don’t know, she lit up the crowd … congrats.”

It’s been a long ride for Otto, who first arrived on campus as a walk-on during the 2019-20 season. During that time, she’s witnessed three athletic directors and two coaches. She’s seen struggling seasons. She’s seen a turnover of teammates, especially with the explosion of the transfer portal.

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But perhaps the biggest transformation she’s seen is the support from the home crowd. During the 2021-22 season, the Trojans pulled off their biggest win of the year on Jan. 10 in their conference home opener against an Arizona Wildcats team that was ranked fourth in the country at the time. The only thing was that hardly anyone was in the stands to witness it.

Fast-forward to this season when the Trojans defeated the UCLA Bruins nearly two years to the day of that Arizona game — but this time the arena was packed. The Bruins were ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.

For Otto, the success USC has had this season has been well worth the wait.

“I think honestly words fall short to describe what that feeling meant to me. I literally got goosebumps after I hit that 3, coming down to hear the crowd,” Otto told media after the game. “I’ve been here for five years. My first year, no one was in the stands. Obviously last year we went to Blacksburg and played, didn’t make it past the first round. So it’s incredible to make it past this round. You don’t take those moments for granted.”

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Throughout Otto’s tenure at USC, she’s played in a total of 27 games and averaged only 2.4 minutes per game. She’s never scored more than eight points in a single game. But there’s nobody more respected in the Trojans’ locker room than she is.

There’s a reason why she was named a captain despite her minimal on-court role. There’s a reason why she was brought to the podium following Saturday’s win. She’s the heart and soul of the team. While those on the outside may not see her importance, you can bet that Gottlieb does.

“I’m proud that India Otto is in here because there’s no one as responsible for building the program as Otto,” Gottlieb told the media after the game. “The way the team reacts when she’s out there just shows the character she has, the huge impact she’s had on our players.”

As for Otto herself, this was a special moment that she won’t ever forget.

“It was incredible. That was a core memory for me, for sure, and I felt like just a culmination of everything that I put into this program the last five years,” Otto said. “It was really, really special.”

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David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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