Giuli, Giuli, Giuli, do you love me?

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Greatness is not an all-out, 100-percent proposition. It is a process of learning to shine when the way needs illumination, to be the coolest and most grounded when the competition is hottest and the stakes highest.

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 Woodward's feet.

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 fared.

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 under fire.

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 were. Top Stories