SOUTH BEND — As Marina Mabrey answered questions before practice Friday afternoon, she rapidly and repeatedly propelled a basketball around her waist. Perhaps she was just anxious to have the propellers — or modern variation thereof — start on the plane she would soon be boarding.
Mabrey and fellow guard Lili Thompson are two Irish players especially eager for the next challenge awaiting No. 6-ranked Notre Dame (2-0).
It comes Sunday afternoon at No. 18 Oregon State (2-0).
Thompson — the lone individual on the ND active roster with playing experience at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore. — will get to see her parents as well as some other family members that reside on the West Coast.
Mabrey will get to further put her most recent game behind her.
“Everyone has bad nights, but it was just my worst,” Mabrey said of her 1-for-9 shooting line with four turnovers in her team’s 78-65 win Tuesday at Western Kentucky.
“I think I was mad for like two days,” the junior admitted, “but I’m over it now. New game, so we’ll see what happens.”
What often has happened in the past is Mabrey, a preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, has bounced back from her lowest-scoring games with some of her best.
Over her freshman and sophomore seasons, she was held to four or fewer points on 11 occasions, averaging 2.3 in those games.
Yet, in the 11 contests that directly followed those outings, Mabrey averaged 16.2.
“Having a bad game definitely motivates me,” Mabrey said, “but it happens to everyone, so you just have to let it go.”
That’s pretty much, though not entirely, what Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is doing concerning Mabrey as well.
“I don’t worry about her,” McGraw said Friday, “because she just has the experience, the confidence. She knows what she can do. She can score in different ways. I do think she settled for some 3s (against Western, taking all nine of her shots outside the arc). She could’ve driven the ball more, and that’s something we’re working on.”
Thompson, the graduate transfer from Stanford, is continuing to work on getting acclimated to her new team.
The surroundings that await her Sunday won’t be new.
Thompson played twice at Oregon State when she was the point guard at Stanford, totaling 22 points, four assists and three steals over those games, but she was also just 9-of-31 from the field with no 3-pointers as her team split those visits.
“It’s a great atmosphere and they’re a tough team, but we’ve done our scout work and we’re ready to go in there,” Thompson said Friday. “A lot of the girls that my battles were with, they’ve graduated, but there’s still a couple names I recognize.”
Over her first two games as ND’s starting point guard, Thompson has averaged 8.0 points and has dealt a decidedly team-high 15 assists against five turnovers. She’s added four steals.
“She’s contributing in a big way,” McGraw said. “She made a huge 3 at the shot-clock buzzer (in the fourth quarter at Western) that might’ve been the dagger that won the game for us. She’s doing a lot of really good things. Her assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty good. I think she can do more, but right now, I’m happy with what she’s doing.”
Tuesday’s game marked the first of seven straight road contests for Notre Dame, a run that will match a 1996-97 stretch for longest such streak in regular-season program history.
“It gave us a huge test,” McGraw said. “It’s what we wanted. It was a great crowd (of 5,061), a hostile environment, and we got to show some poise when they made a run at us.”
ND led 38-28 early in the third quarter before Western closed to 41-38 later in the period. The Irish led 56-49 by the start of the fourth quarter and the Toppers got no closer than six the rest of the way.
“Offensively, we scored a lot of points even though we shot poorly,” McGraw said of her club finishing 31-of-69 from the field overall, including 4-of-22 on triples and 12-of-17 at the line. “Defensively, I thought we handled the ball screen well. That was one thing we worked on, but we gave up too many offensive rebounds (25).”
Visiting Oregon State
The Irish face a ranked team for the first time this season with the trip to Corvallis.
Based on the current Associated Press poll, ND will encounter such clubs on at least eight occasions during the regular season, and possibly 10 depending on how the Gulf Coast Showcase plays out next week in Florida.
Not only has Oregon State made a habit of winning at home since the start of the 2013-14 season, going 62-6, but over those 68 games, the Beavers have limited opponents to a paltry 32.6 percent from the field.
“They are tremendous defensively. That is their strength,” McGraw said. “They’re smart. They guard people who are going to score, lay off people who aren’t. They’re aggressive, determined and they really like to defend.”
OSU went 31-5 last season, won its third straight Pac-12 regular-season title under coach Scott Rueck and made its second straight Sweet 16 appearance.
All-American guard Sydney Wiese is gone from that team to the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, but All-Pac-12 pick Marie Gulich is among the returnees.
The 6-foot-5 senior center is at 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game through OSU’s first two contests, while sophomore guard Mikayla Pivec is at 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals.
“Gulich is a terrific player,” McGraw said. “She’s mobile, can face up and shoot, is a shot blocker. We haven’t played anybody that big yet, so it’ll be interesting to see how we can score on the block against her, but they also have some really good shooters. They’re a really good complementary type of team, with a good outside and good inside game.”
The Beavers are shooting 56.5 percent from the field, including 22-of-44 on 3-pointers.
Irish senior Kathryn Westbeld, still working back from April ankle surgery, played some in ND’s first two games, but remains limited, according to McGraw, and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
Freshman standout Mikayla Vaughn was battling the flu Friday, per the coach, but did make the trip to Corvallis, after first making a trip to the health center.