• John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Friday, February 27, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE — Mike Daugherty has this jacket-flinging frustration with Giuliana Mendiola.

Seems she’s too unselfish to suit him.

"There are times every game when I’m saying, ‘Shoot the damn ball,’" said Daugherty, assistant coach of the University of Washington women’s basketball team.

But here’s the thing: Mendiola does shoot the damn ball, 1,326 times to be exact, second-most in school history. Yet, the UW senior guard’s desire to get her teammates involved in the offense also means that she also holds the school record in assists, with 585.

"That’s part of her genius," Daugherty said. "Sometimes, kids who score a lot of points and dominate the basketball don’t let other people play with them. They make them stand around and watch. In her case, that’s not it."

Mendiola, last season’s Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year, either leads or is in the top 10 in nearly every career category the school has — scoring (second), assists (first), 3-pointers made and attempted (fourth), field-goal percentage (fifth) and 3-point percentage (third).

Scan the Pac-10 stats and Mendiola’s name is all over the place: scoring (first at 20.7 a game), field-goal percentage (fourth at 51.4 percent), free-throw percentage (fourth at 78.6 percent), rebounding (ninth at 6.0 a game), assists (second at 5.58 a game) and on and on and on.

But those are only numbers, which Mendiola cares about as much as she cares about freshman anthropology. What really gets Mendiola jacked is winning. It was that way at Washington when she came in as a freshman and remains the same today, in her last regular-season game in a UW uniform.

Following a recent loss to Washington, USC coach Chris Gobrecht could be seen gritting her teeth as she said, "She controls and takes over a game as well as anybody I’ve ever seen. You try things against her that you’ll think will work and they just don’t. She’s just a great, great player."

Stats don’t tell how many close games the Huskies have won the last four seasons because Mendiola decided she wouldn’t let them lose. Gobrecht has been an unwilling victim. So has Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne. Go down the line of Pac-10 coaches and remember the way Mendiola has stung each and every one in the last four years.

"You can’t fully appreciate what she does until you’ve been burned by her," Turner Thorne said.

Mendiola has burned people in every way possible. In one game, it might be the no-look pass. In another, it’s an impossible juke and subsequent layup. In still another, an offensive rebound and put-back among the trees in the lane.

Mendiola is happy having scored four points in the first 35 minutes of a given game, as long as her teammates are scoring and the Huskies have a comfortable lead. It is in the close games when she puts it on herself to be the guide, to find a way to win.

If it means she has to score, that’s what Mendiola will do.

The weapons, apparently, are endless. In the latter stages of a 63-55 victory against ASU Thursday night, Mendiola took down an offensive rebound one-handed and, in one motion, flipped a no-look, one-handed pass to teammate Angie Jones for a layup.

The Mendiola Legacy is ridiculously full with similar moves.

"I’ve seen her do that since we were growing up," says her sister and teammate, Gioconda Mendiola. "Nothing she does surprises me. She can do so many things on the basketball court."

Yet, it often comes down to Gioconda to push her sister to take over a game, to dominate the basketball. She’ll tell her that it’s time for her to take control, to score the way she’s capable of scoring.

To tell her it’s her time.

Giuliana Mendiola plays the part with reluctance, because, as the assist numbers show, it goes against her nature and takes some of the joy of the game to be The Scorer.

"Growing up, I’ve always enjoyed getting my teammates involved," she said. "I’ve never worried about points. I’ve just known that if I’ve played my game, all that other stuff will come. I’ve just wanted to get my teammates involved and ready for a game as much as possible.

"I think that mindset has gotten me in trouble at times on the court. My sister is always the first one to let me know that, especially when a game is close, that I need to start shooting the ball and not pass up open looks. My coaches always encourage me to take open shots when they’re there. I try to, but sometimes I see a teammate in the corner of my eye and think they’re open."

As one of a family of nine children, sharing has been as much a part of Mendiola as breathing. So has white-hot competitiveness, which she learned playing basketball with her older brothers, who never, ever let up on her or Gioconda.

"Growing up, how close we are, they were willing to do anything and everything for the next family member," Giuliana Mendiola said. "That’s just always the way it’s been, whether it’s food, clothing, money, anything. We always had to share and give to the next person.

"I think that mentality, the devotion we have for each other, I think I’ve taken on when I’m on the court with my teammates."

That mentality also has gone a long way in making Mendiola, arguably, the greatest player in the history of UW women’s basketball, along with the Jamie Redds, the Karen Dedens, and the Karen Murrays of the world.

In fact, Daugherty said, you can take "arguably" out of the equation.

"Has there been anybody who has taken over more games down the stretch and won them for a team than she has in her career?" he asked. "Never anybody that I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of great ones. And it’s been more so this year because we didn’t have as many weapons."

Perhaps the word "arguably" can be applied to Mendiola in terms of the school’s greatest athletes the school has ever produced.

How often does a player of this caliber, with this set of wildly varies skills, come along? Once every 10 years? Once a generation? Longer?

Is it a stretch to talk about Mendiola in the same breath as the greatest Huskies in the modern era, regardless of chosen sport — the Emtmans, the Marques Tuiasosopos, the great rowers, the Marzettas, the Schrempfs and the Reggie Williamses?

Or go back further. Doesn’t Mendiola’s legacy at least approach that of the McElhennys, the Heinrichs, the Kirkbys?

It does. Not that Mendiola cares.

For her, the charge has never been individual glory, but of team accomplishment. A close second: Hanging with teammates.

And with today’s final regular-season game, those days are rapidly coming to a close. Even with the WNBA likely in her future, the prospect of leaving stings.

"I’m just going to miss everybody so much," she said. "It’s the last game and it’s at home. I’m going to miss everybody from all four years, all the support. Seattle. I’ve had so much fun playing with my teammates. And the coaching staff has been behind us, always.

"I’m going to miss everything about it."

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