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March 2, 2013

Jio goes out smiling

Jio Fontan will be remembered fondly here.

And not just for this week's Galen sweep of the Arizona teams after Saturday's 57-56 hold-your-breath escape from Arizona State's late-arriving Sun Devils.

Nor even for Saturday's win that improves the Trojans to 14-15 (9-7 in the Pac-12) and moves them into a tie for fifth with Colorado and past ASU in the league standings.

But he'll be remembered for being such a standup guy. Despite getting knocked down again, knocked down hard on a right wrist that had heading off to get an MRI right after the game.

He'd like to be remembered, Jio said after his final Galen game, for "sticking with it," the young man from Paterson, N.J. said. "It's tough. I never like to live with regrets but it's been a challenge."

And rewarding. "It's funny to see how I've grown as a man," he said, learning to live on my own." And play through whatever including last preseason's year-ending knee surgery from an injury on the Trojans' Brazil trip.

"I just want people to remember how hard I played . . . and that I represented the University the best I could . . . and I always had a smile on my face," Jio said.

And handled himself with class, as he described his take on the flagrant foul call, a six-point turnaround play, that brought the Sun Devils back from the dead, some might say, keeping them alive for the league in NCAA bracketology.

Sure, Jio could have said he was hurting plenty on his injured right wrist after a drive to the basket and contact that sent him flying but with no call no matter that the game had to be stopped the next possession for him to leave the court holding his battered hand and wrist.

Sure, he could have said when ASU's extremely athletic and active Jahil Carson decided to take advantage of the injured wrist as he was dribbling, again with no call. And he could have said he had no choice but to try to clear him out and get him off him if the official on the play wouldn't. But with Carson ducking into him, as he moved his arms, there was elbow contact. Which of course, there would not have been had Carson been called for the first contact.

There was a call, all right. A call on Jio after an officials' review of the replay. ASU got the ball, after what should have been a foul call on ASU to start with. And after Carson's two free throws and Chris Colvin's quick score. What had been a 51-37 USC lead just 1:56 earlier was now 51-45. The Sun Devils had been brought back to life.

But Jio wouldn't go there. Wouldn't throw the same officials under the bus who'd just done it to him.

He said he told the official he headn't meant any contact. And yes, that "call was pretty tough," right there. "I swung my elbow high -- but not intentionally. The rules are the rules. It wasn't a call I liked. But it was the right call."

Only it was a call that wouldn't have happened had Carson been called for his fouling of Jio, as he grimaced in pain trying to dribble up the floor. "My teammates could see I was in trouble dribbling and I was passing up shots," Fontan said. As could Carson.

And then a minute and five seconds later, Jio picked up his fifth foul. And now, all he could do was watch play after play go ASU's way, much the same as his dad, Jorge, was doing after coming out to catch him in his final game.

"This game represented all my struggles I went through and growing up as a man here," Jio said, watching freshman walkon Chass Bryan hit a floater, get a shot blocked and then get taken down by an unseen, or at least uncalled ASU defender's hand, with 13 seconds left, for a turnover that allowed the Sun Devils their final score on a Carson drive.

Another USC senior, Eric Wise, hit what would turn out to be the game-winning free throws after a five-minute review went USC's way at the 18.2-second mark on a shot clock violation or a foul call that put Wise on the line.

Wise hit those but missed the next one with 4.2 seconds left but Carson's 40-foot heave was off the mark.

And USC had moved ahead of ASU by a half-game in the Pac-12 standings.

And Jio could keep that smile on his face even if his final 22 minutes at Galen weren't exactly the way he wanted them to be.

"This game meant a lot to me," Jio said. He was able to walk out with a win, despite the sore wrist, and maybe pass along the mantle to Bryan, whose 18 minutes produced five points, two rebounds, two assists a steal and no turnovers.

Of that last review that went USC's way, Jio and USC Interim Coach Bob Cantu, to whom the "Thank you, Cantu," cheers were being directed by USC fans, had resigned themselves.

"We were preparing to go on defense," Jio said. The right call by the officials, that Wise had been fouled before the shot clock expired, was a bonus as it gave USC the game-winners.

"It's never easy in this conference," Cantu said, for any number of reasons. So no surprise that USC expected not to get the call even though the official had already called the foul on ASU.

"It's the nature of our league, the nature of our team, to have close games," ASU coach Herb Sendek said, of his Sun Devils' ability to come from behind by 19 points and to do so without fouling, getting called for just seven fouls the second half.

Of the clock confusion call, Sendek said that "there's a 10th of a second difference between the shot clock and the game clock . . . My question is, how do you attempt a shot in a 10th of a second. I never got an answer."

USC did. As did Jio Fontan, Eric Wise and maybe Bob Cantu, in what could be the final home game for all three. And this time, despite their best guesses, it went USC's way.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.



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