Jio Fontan scored 15 points including a pair of tiebreaking free throws with 6.9 seconds to play and USC pulled out a 71-69 victory over Stanford on Thursday night in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both schools.
Eric Wise added 14 points for USC (6-8). Four of the Trojans’ losses have come against schools that are currently among the top 20 in the nation including Minnesota, Illinois, San Diego State and New Mexico.
The Trojans finished last season with a school-record 26 losses and were 1-17 in the conference.
Andy Brown had 17 points for Stanford (9-5), while Josh Huestis finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Cardinal finished last season 10-8 in the Pac-12 and 26-11 overall, ending their season with a 75-51 victory in the championship game of the NIT Tournament against Minnesota. But they haven’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
In the preseason Pac-12 media poll, Stanford was picked to finish fourth behind Arizona, UCLA and Cal. USC was picked ninth.
The Trojans never led until Aaron Fuller’s lay-up with 8:51 left in the game, which capped a 10-0 run and put USC ahead 53-51.
During the rally, USC guard Byron Wesley left the court holding his stomach with both hands and went to the dressing room. He returned to the bench with 4:46 left and the Trojans down 62-59, but did not play again. The Trojans kept battling and took a 69-67 lead on two free throws by Fontan with 1:51 to play.
Brown tied it with a layup, but couldn’t convert the 3-point play with 26.8 seconds left. Stanford’s Chasson Randle, who missed all six shots, fouled Fontan coming out of a USC timeout, and the Trojans’ point guard made both.
Stanford had one more chance, but Randle missed a running jumper and Dwight Powell bounded a dunk attempted off the rim as time expired.
Stanford shot 51.7 percent in the first half and going 7 for 13 from 3-point range en route to a 42-33 lead at intermission. Brown led the way with 13 points, including three buckets from behind the arc.
Wise, who missed the final 10 1-2 minutes of USC’s 63-61 overtime victory last Sunday at Galen Center after getting his second technical foul of the game, had 10 points during a 4:46 span to help them trim a seven-point deficit to 30-29. But the Cardinal finished the half with a 12-4 run, capped by Aaron Bright’s buzzer-beating jumper. This was the first time in nine games this season that the Trojans won when trailing at halftime.
The Cardinal captured both games against The Trojans in 2011-2012, Stanford’s first season sweep of USC since 2005. They won 51-43 at home on New Year’s Eve and 59-47 in the rematch on Feb. 12 at Los Angeles, ending Stanford’s six-game road losing streak at USC with some clutch 3-point shooting by Randle down the stretch and a 45-19 rebounding advantage.
Stanford will remain in town for Saturday’s matinee at UCLA. The Cardinal have won only nine of their last 37 conference games on the road.