With Mabrey on point, Notre Dame back in NCAAs at top seed
When the season became a numbers game for Notre Dame, coach Muffet McGraw decided to turn Marina Mabrey into a point guard.
Mabrey, the 5-foot-11 junior shooting guard, was a little apprehensive taking over at the point. But McGraw, Mabrey and Notre Dame really had no choice after losing two point guards and two other players over nine months to knee injuries that required season-ending surgeries.
“As a two, you’re thinking about scoring,” Mabrey said after Notre Dame (29-3) received one of the four top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament. “Now I feel like I have to put myself second and think, ‘OK, what does our team need?'”
A point guard herself at St. Joseph in the 1970s, McGraw had few options to consider on the plane ride home from a 96-73 victory at Wake Forest on the last day of 2017. Point guard Lili Thompson, a graduate transfer from Stanford, had hours earlier gone down in a heap with the team’s fourth season-ending injury, joining senior point guard Mychal Johnson, All-America senior forward Brianna Turner and promising freshman forward Mykala Vaughn on a bench now down to seven scholarship and three walk-on players.
“Any time you ask a scorer to step out of their role and play point, which is a job where you have to think about everybody else and not yourself, you wonder,” McGraw recalled. “Marina was really, really willing to do that.”
It wasn’t a total stretch for McGraw, who gave Mabrey some time at the position last season behind senior Lindsay Allen, who was back up her first three seasons by Mabrey’s older sister, Michaela, a senior when Marina arrived on campus in 2015.
“Marina had a little bit of experience but not much,” McGraw said. “Michaela was naturally a point guard. She looked to pass first. It was easy for Michaela to play the point. It’s been an adjustment for Marina, but she’s handled it well.”
There was a hiccup three games after Mabrey made the move when then-No. 2 Notre Dame was routed 100-67 at No. 3 Louisville on Jan. 11. A 14-game winning streak followed that allowed the Fighting Irish to share a fifth straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title with Louisville. The Cardinals again prevailed in the ACC Tournament championship game, 74-72.
That’s a 16-2 run to the NCAA Tournament for the Irish with Mabrey at point. During those 18 games, the native of Belmar, New Jersey, totaled seven games of 20 or more points, had seven games of five or more rebounds, dished out seven or more assists on seven occasions and had at least five steals five times.
Next up is the NCAA tourney opener at home on Friday against Cal State Northridge (19-15).
Many have provided Mabrey an ear as she has sought to find her comfort zone. Thompson and Johnson have guided her every day as have McGraw and associate head coach Niele Ivey, who played the point on McGraw’s 2001 national championship team. Allen still keeps in touch, and, of course, there’s older sister Michaela, now an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio).
“Michaela told me, ‘Take what they give you. You’re a great scorer so don’t let go of that. Find a balance,'” Marina said. “I think I’m starting to find the balance.”
Ivey believes Mabrey has in a season during which she has averaged 14.2 points (down from 14.6 a year ago), 4.6 rebounds (up from 3.0), 4.3 assists (up from 2.4) and 1.9 steals (up from 1.5).
“I knew with the ball being in her hands that she would be the hardest worker,” Ivey said. “Marina is a competitor. She wants to win. She’s going to do whatever it takes to win. She’s going to run through a wall for this team.”
Before she does that, Marina Mabrey might want to talk to her coach and teammates, who have seen enough crutches and bandages this season.