If the first Pac-10 Conference Tournament victory in the history of the University of Washington women's basketball program is any indication, then Giuliana Mendiola is taking giant steps in the latest stage of her journey toward greatness. Not only did the newly minted conference player of the year nail 29 points and snare 11 rebounds to pace a 64-63 Husky win over Southern Cal, Mendiola displayed a grand sense of timing reserved for the rare few.
"She knows when to pass the ball and when to shoot the ball," said teammate and
older sister, Gioconda. "That's why everyone is happy throughout the team. She
makes everyone better, and you want those kind of players on your team. You
don't want the girl who just goes one-on-one and creates for herself every day.
She's not about personal accolades. She just wants to win games. Whatever she
has to do to win those games, whether it's scoring, passing, rebounding, that's
what she'll do."
Today at HP Pavilion, it was all of the above.
The shot clock and the Huskies' Pac-10 season down to its final ticks, Mendiola
received the ball on the baseline, saw the Trojans' Rachel Woodward dive down
to help and passed the ball back out to teammate Loree Payne in whom she later
said she has "complete faith." With the USC defense reacting, Payne one-touched
the ball back to Mendiola, who then saw a bigger opening, transported the ball
past Woodward and arched the game-cinching shot over Trojan center Ebony
Hoffman with 33.3 seconds left to play.
"I'm not afraid to go up against whomever," Mendiola said. "I just wanted to
win the game."
That - winning the game - was something Mendiola assured during Southern Cal's
ensuing possession. With Washington leading 62-61, Southern Cal's junior guard,
Rometra Craig, appeared to be setting Mendiola up for a last-second high screen
for an entry down low to Hoffman, USC's all-conference post. However, Craig
surprised Mendiola - and apparently her teammate - by tossing the ball at
Playing behind Woodward, Andrea Lalum got a hand in, creating a loose ball upon
which Mendiola pounced, as she would later say "like flies on ... you know." Yes,
you know: Husky ball, Husky victory.
In a huge way, Mendiola was finishing what she had started. The HP Pavilion
offers a challenging environment for shooters. It lacks endzone seating, thus
presenting an airy, non-distinct background. Plus, the Huskies felt, its rims
are tight and the game balls overinflated, a non-conducive combination if there
ever was one. Trojan Coach Chris Gobrecht added to the mix an uncharacteristic
amount of zone defense. So though the Huskies tried a conference-tournament-
record 31 three-pointers, they were rendered as sharpshooters with foggy sights
and managed to drop just nine. Mendiola and Andrea Lalum were a combined seven
for 12 from beyond the arc, so you get an idea on how the rest of the team
Overall, the Huskies misfired on 16 of their first 23 shots. Still, Mendiola
held back, wanting to see what the Washington shooters had. "I rely on my
teammates to go out and take shots," she said. They weren't dropping so with
her older sister, Gio, urging her to "take over and settle the team down,"
Mendiola asserted herself offensively, slinging in four straight shots for 10
points during the final 4:09 of the first half.
Just four minutes later, Mendiola drained a three-pointer to stake Washington
to a 12-point lead and it appeared that the rout was on. However, offensive
paralysis re-claimed the Huskies and Aisha Hollans, a first team All-Pac-10
selection along with Hoffman, slung in 10 points during a 13-zip run that
reclaimed the lead for USC.
Again it was time for Mendiola, who made 10 of 15 shots, to step up and, again,
the junior guard complied, with the help of a critical charge taken by
Washington's Kellie Dalan on the Trojans' Meghan Gnekow with 50 seconds left.
The double-double was Mendiola's eighth of the year and she now has scored at
least 20 points in eight of her last 10 games. As is her wont, her teammates
share a rarefied air, logging their 22nd win of the year - the same number as
was achieved during Washington's run to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2001.
"Not only is Giuli as complete a player as I've coached, she's so competitive,
so passionate," said Husky Coach June Daugherty, who has touted Mendiola as the
best player in the conference and among the nation's elite. "She just works so
hard. She and Gio changed the culture of women's basketball at the University
of Washington by coming in and working so hard."
And now comes the next step. The recognition of what Mendiola's favorite
player, Magic Johnson, used to call "winnin' time." Certainly, the coolness
To wit, as Mendiola was putting the maximum heat on the Trojans at the
beginning of the second half, someone from the Huskies' side of HP Pavilion
screamed, "Hey, Giuli!" Mendiola darted her eyes into the stands, flashed a
smile and gave a little wave, as if to say, "Everything's cool." Indeed they
Giuli, Giuli, Giuli, do you love me?
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