by Eric Uribe
There’s been very little to write home about this season for Nevada’s two basketball programs, that is, except for the center position.
Both AJ West and Mimi Mungedi have been models of consistency for the Wolf Pack this season, being the lone shining light in a mostly dark year.
Mungedi now has the hardware to prove it. The 6-foot-8 Gabon native earned her second consecutive Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award (she shared the honor last season) after averaging gaudy numbers all season — 12.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 54 percent field goal percentage.
The once-raw Mungedi now has her name etched in the record books. Mungedi is Nevada’s all-time block leader with 155 and set the single-season mark with 67 this year.
Her eye-popping statline earlier this season against San Jose State — 24 points, 29 rebounds (MWC single-game record) and six blocks — was one for the ages. The only Wolf Pack individual performance I’ve covered in the past three years that stacks up to Mungedi’s monster game is perhaps football player Stefphon Jefferson’s six-touchdown performance against Hawaii in 2012.
West, the 6-foot-9 Brooklyn native, has been no slouch either. The big man is one of a mere 17 players across the country averaging a double-double (12.2 points and 10.8 rebounds) this season.
His rebounding efforts have been historic. West’s 116 rebounds during conference play this year set an all-time MWC record. His 188 career offensive rebounds are already a conference record, this in spite of West only playing two seasons. No player in the nation has more offensive boards than West. Altogether, West notched 218 rebounds during MW play, which ranks second in the conference’s single-season record book. The campaign earned West a spot on the media’s all-conference second team, being edged out by UNLV’s Christian Wood on the first team.
As impressive as both West and Mungedi’s campaigns have been this year, their improvement throughout their Nevada tenure is even more inspiring.
To be blunt, Mungedi had no idea how to play the game as a freshman in 2011. The then-project player could barely even catch a basketball, much less dominate a game like she did this season as a senior. As a freshman, she spent most the season riding the bench, averaging 5.5 minutes and 1.1 points per game. It’s been a steady climb since then with Mungedi averaging 4.5 points as a sophomore, 9.6 as a junior and 12.7 this year.
West has made his strides, too. After struggling to gain eligibility from the NCAA to play early last season, West finally burst onto the scene and helped navigate the Wolf Pack to a third-place conference finish. However, West seemingly hit a rookie wall down the stretch last season, disappearing often during games. Wolf Pack head coach David Carter was quick to bench West after miscues, which were frequent.
This year, Carter couldn’t afford to sit West on the bench. West averaged a team-high 29 minutes per game. Throughout the season, both Mungedi and West seemingly had to play perfect games for their teams to have a chance to win. In spite of that pressure, the two excelled. That same pressure will follow them into the conference tournament. Mungedi failed to carry her team already, but can West shoulder the Wolf Pack past the Rebels?
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.