Jersey girls Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles coming up big for Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

By Anthony Anderson
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — So far this NCAA Tournament season, Notre Dame’s two Jersey guards have been more like jerseyed gods.

Irish senior Dara Mabrey from Belmar, N.J., has hit more 3-pointers than anybody, man or woman, through the opening two rounds, draining 12 in just 20 attempts, to go with a team-leading 23.5 scoring average.

Olivia Miles from Phillipsburg, N.J., has dished more assists than anybody, man or woman, distributing 23, and in her first tourney game she became the first-ever freshman, man or woman, to record a triple-double as ND beat Massachusetts 89-78.

Miles and Mabrey share a bond that’s driven in part by sharing a home state, and this week, they’re both unabashedly stoked by the chance to play near home.

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The two often appear in lock step on the court despite the three-year difference in their class standings.

“For sure, we have this mutual understanding of how badly both of us want to win,” Mabrey said Wednesday night, a day ahead of the Irish (24-8) leaving for Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. Sweet 16 matchup against Bridgeport (Conn.) Region top seed North Carolina State (31-3).

“We’ve built a really strong relationship,” Mabrey said. “We can settle each other down and we can bring each other up.”

Jan 30, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Olivia Miles (5) and guard Dara Mabrey (1) celebrate in the second half against the Boston College Eagles at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

They can also disagree, then quickly move forward, as happened during Monday’s second-round, 108-64 trampling of host Oklahoma.

“We were disagreeing about something,” Mabrey said of their Jersey attitudes suddenly colliding, “but the point is, it was so easy to fix. It was fixed fast, and it’s really special to have somebody you can do that with, because emotions are running high.”

Miles says it’s “just awesome” to have Mabrey as a teammate.

“She helps me on the court,” Miles said, “and more so, helps me off the court. Having that East Coast connection is super cool.”

Miles and Mabrey share some similar tastes, figuratively as well as literally.

“We enjoy a lot of the same foods, and we argue a lot with the rest of our teammates about it,” Mabrey said with a laugh, “especially how (New Jersey) bagels and pizza are different from everywhere else in the world.”

Notre Dame's Dara Mabrey (1) celebrates a 3-point basket next to Oklahoma's Kennady Tucker (4) in the first half during a women's basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.,Monday, March, 21, 2022.

Mabrey says she and Miles spent “a lot of time together at the beach,” last summer while back in Jersey, where their homes are about 85 miles apart.

There are, of course, differences between Miles, the prototypical point guard, and Mabrey, the sharpshooter best known for her treys.

Among those, Mabrey took one of the slowest-ever paths to the Notre Dame women’s program by virtue of first playing two years at Virginia Tech, while Miles took basically the quickest-ever by becoming the program’s first early enrollee in January 2021.

Their basketball backgrounds are rooted differently, too.

Mabrey was not a top 100 recruit coming out of high school, per ESPN, although her family lineage was already bountiful with older sisters Michaela and Marina becoming impact players at Notre Dame.

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Miles has no profound basketball history in her family, nor any sisters for that matter, but she was coveted by programs galore while ranking as ESPN’s No. 2 point guard and No. 8 player overall in the high school class of 2020.

Ever since her arrival at ND, Miles’ confidence on the floor has overflowed despite her youth, though she’s also quick to admit there have been issues with turnovers.

Far more frequently, however, there have been sensational moments. Some of them have caught even her off guard.

“That triple-double (against UMass), I didn’t understand the weight of it at the time, didn’t know I was the first freshman ever to do that, didn’t know they’d be posting stuff about it on (national TV),” Miles said, “but I’m just being me. I’m proud that I achieved that.”

Miles and Mabrey hope their next splashy achievements happen this weekend, fairly close to their homes.

Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles (5) drives past Oklahoma guard Nevaeh Tot (1) and Madi Williams (25) in the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Monday, March 21, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/ Mitch Alcala)

Each player hails less than three hours from Bridgeport.

“It adds a lot that my family is going to be able to come and support me,” said Miles, who is expecting some of her cousins, an uncle and a close friend to join her parents in attendance. “They support me win or lose.”

Added Miles, “Tickets are tight, but I’m trying to work it out.”

Her backcourt mate is pumped as well.

“Oh my gosh, yes,” Mabrey said of whether the proximity to home adds to the anticipation. “I get to see my whole family and some of my best friends, a lot of really important people to me, some of them people who aren’t able to come to our games (at Notre Dame). I’m excited to see them and soak all of this in.”

If the fifth-seeded Irish can pull off a win over the Wolfpack — ND already beat NC State during the regular season, 69-66, but will be the underdog again — then the soaking of all this in will be extended through Monday night, when the survivor takes on the winner between No. 2 seed Connecticut (27-5) and third-seeded Indiana (24-8).

“They’re a super intelligent team,” Miles said of the Wolfpack, “really good, really well-coached, with great players. They play really good defense, but we beat them once and we can do it again.”

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL SWEET 16

WHAT: NCAA Bridgeport Regional

WHO: No. 5-seed Notre Dame (24-8) vs. No. 1-seed North Carolina State (31-3).

WHEN: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: Total Mortgage Arena, Bridgeport, Conn.

WATCH: ESPN.

LISTEN: WQLQ (99.9 FM).