Mongomo keeps breaking records

Heading into the twilight of her career playing basketball for the UNBC Timberwolves with just six regular-season games left in her final season of eligibility, there's no shortage of material to stoke Maria Mongomo's sense of accomplishment.

When that final game rolls around, after four-and-a-half seasons wearing the green and gold, the scintillating Spaniard will top UNBC's Canada West career charts in points, assists, steals and three-pointers and will rank second in rebounds and free throws. In a two-game series sweep of the UBC-Okanagan Heat in Kelowna over the weekend, Mongomo became the T-wolves' all-time leading scorer, passing Vasiliki Louka on the all-time points list and also breaking Mercedes vanKoughnett's career assists record.

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But there's one statistic that stands alone for Mongomo as the most meaningful. As long as she's been with her team, she's never missed a game. She ran that streak to 86 games over the weekend in Kelowna.

"I haven't missed any games and I would say what I am most proud of is not stopping and continuing to the end," said the 24-year-old Mongomo, who will graduate with a psychology degree.

"Before coming to Canada, I never had a serious injury that bothered me so much when I'm playing. Being here and getting injured but continuing playing, I learned how to adapt and do other things. It was hard but interesting to do it."

Mongomo's consecutive game streak easily could have ended three years ago when she was hobbled by a knee injury but played through it. This season, she hurt her Achilles tendon in the preseason and still hasn't fully recovered her speed and leaping ability.

Despite that, Mongomo scored a season-high 35 points Friday in a 104-54 win over the Heat and put up 30 points, 16 rebounds and five assists in the rematch Saturday, a 72-70 T-wolves' victory. She now has 1,547 points and 192 assists in her career, with six games left on the schedule.

"My ankle has bothered me from the beginning but now I am better but I'm still recovering," Mongomo said. "I got tendonitis in the preseason and it got worse. I was going to physio but the treatment requires me to not play, and I want to play. Basketball is like that sometimes, you get injured and you have to work with what you have."

Through 14 games, she's averaged 18.8 points (fourth in Canada West) and 9.3 rebounds (fourth in the conference). She has 47 steals (second) and is averaging 2.4 steals heading into a weekend set against the Brandon Bobcats this weekend at the Northern Sport Centre (Friday 6 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m.).

Scoring points and setting up teammates is fun for Mongomo but she derives her greatest joy from stopping opponents cold in their tracks.

"I really love defending, it's the best part of basketball," she said.

The speedy guard joined the T-wolves in 2015 after head coach Sergey Shchepotkin spotted her while she was playing club basketball in her native Spain. She wanted to come to Canada and Shchepotkin just happened to have an opening in the starting lineup for a backcourt specialist. Averaging 31.3 minutes per game that first season, Mongomo filled the role admirably. She scored 17.5 points per game and was leading the T-wolves in virtually every individual category when she ran into problems with the expiration of her student visa, which forced her to return to Spain.

That foul-up in paperwork that took her out of the country was the only interruption in Mongomo's university career. Despite missing eight games she was an obvious choice for the 2015-16 CIS All-Rookie team, the first Timberwolf ever to win a national season award.

"I looked for many places but I chose Prince George mostly because (Shchepotkin) met me and my mother and I thought it would be good place," she said. "When you are going far away from your family you need that support and he was always willing to give that support. I told him I want to get the (playing) time you think I need and if I don't deserve it, I don't deserve it. I know myself and I don't want to get anything for free, I want to work for it."

A native of Las Palmas, Spain, on the Canary Islands 150 miles off the northwest coast of Africa, Mongomo was eight years old when she made the switch from track and field to basketball, a game she could play outdoors year-round.

"I will say it came more naturally to me, just because I really enjoyed it from the beginning," she said. "I spent many times playing basketball alone, I just really liked it."

The T-wolves have made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and last year defeated Trinity Western in the first round for their first-ever Canada West playoff win. That game and the T-wolves' defeat of the previously unbeaten the Regina Cougars two seasons ago when Regina was gearing up to host the national championship rank as the biggest wins so far in Mongomo's career.

The team records she set will follow her to into the next phase of her basketball career when she goes looking for pro opportunities but for now she's more concerned with getting the T-wolves into a playoff position. Now 5-9, with six games left, the 12th-place T-wolves need to put together a winning streak to put a lock on a playoff spot.

"We still have lots of the season to go through and hopefully it gets better," Mongomo said.

"I can't say I'm sad (about the end of her career with the T-wolves). Always when you end a stage of your life there are some feelings of anxiety and you get uncomfortable but I like those situations. I think I get better in those situations and I'm ready for change."

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