Notre Dame women coast in tourney opener

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

TOLEDO, Ohio — Michaela Mabrey hit a 3 from the corner to push a first-half Notre Dame run to 18-2.

Less than a minute later, the Robert Morris 2-3 zone left Mabrey alone on the left wing. She punished the Colonials with another 3, and it was a 21-2 run.

Two minutes later, when Robert Morris pushed its defense out on the perimeter to defend Mabrey, she stepped back a few feet and calmly drained an NBA-range 3, and the run turned into a stampede.

Mabrey’s long-distance rainbows highlighted a dominating Irish attack as top-seeded Notre Dame crushed No. 16 seed Robert Morris, 93-42, on Saturday in NCAA women’s basketball tournament action.

Notre Dame (33-0) shoved any first-round jitters and Robert Morris out of the way quickly. Six different Notre Dame players scored the first seven Irish baskets. An 11-0 run led to an 18-4 lead, and put the Irish on track for a 6:30 p.m. meeting against Arizona State (23-9) on Monday night. The winner advances to the Notre Dame Regional for Sweet Sixteen action next Saturday.

Robert Morris (21-12) had no answer for Mabrey or any of the other Irish, on the perimeter or inside. The Colonials tried the zone to deal with an overpowering Notre Dame inside game that eventually had the Irish outscoring Robert Morris 50-8 in points in the paint.

Mabrey came off the bench at the 14:12 mark and hit her first three shots to help the Irish blast to a 50-15 halftime lead. By the time the 5-foot-10 sophomore came off the court in the second half to slap her teammates’ hands, grab a cup of water and take a seat, she was 6-of-7 shooting for a game-high 16 points. The Belmar, N.J., native led a bench effort that had the Irish reserves matching Robert Morris in points (42).

“I don’t think Robert Morris knew that even if they put a little hand up, I’ll still shoot it anyway,” Mabrey said. “Zone, zone, zone lights me up ... it’s every shooter’s dream.”

An early-morning Saturday shooting session on her own with three other Irish players got Mabrey in launch mode.

“I still have my touch, even though I’m sitting six, seven minutes to start the game,” Mabrey said. “I think it just comes from practicing, and I come out on the court with a lot of confidence.”

Mabrey, who takes about 300 shots from 3-point range everyday during the season, was three points shy of her career high of 19. She doubles the amount of time she shoots in the off-season, but admits to the occasional day off.

“My arm would get sore if I didn’t take a little time off,” Mabrey said.

Not considered a 3-point shooter when she was recruited, Mabrey has blossomed from behind the arc. She leads the Irish in 3-pointers with 65 (out of 156 attempts for 42 percent), and most of them are two-to-three feet behind the arc. Kayla McBride is next with 32 made 3-pointers. Last season, Mabrey was 17-of-59 from 3-point range for 29 percent.

“I never really practiced shooting 3-pointers in high school,” Mabrey said. “My range just started getting deeper and deeper.”

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said that Mabrey was an impact player for the Irish by stretching the Robert Morris defense. That meant that the inside was open for the Irish to attack, which they did with extreme vigor.

“Michaela was really critical,” McGraw said. “Coming off the bench, she’s always ready to shoot the ball, and shot it extremely well.”

Mabrey led a strong Irish shooting effort that saw the Irish connect on 10-of-18 shots from 3-point range. Notre Dame finished 38-of-64 for 59 percent, compared to 14-of-52 shooting (27 percent) by Robert Morris. Exceptional passing, particularly to set up Irish players in the blocks, fueled 23 assists. The Irish took advantage of their offensive opportunities and had five players in double figures. ND starters hit 22-of-38 shots (58 percent), and the Irish bench was 16-of-26 (62 percent).

While Mabrey lit the fuse for the explosive Irish offense, Robert Morris could never get on track behind its star player, 6-foot-2 forward Artemis Spanou. Leading the nation in double-doubles with 28, Spanou was limited to seven points and six rebounds by the Irish.

“Artemis Spanou is a great player,” Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. “They were double and triple teaming her.”

Spanou looked at being the focus of the Irish defense as a positive.

“Getting double-teamed by a team such as Notre Dame shows a lot of respect from them,” Spanou said.

Curt Rallo: CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Twitter: rallo_NDInsider

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd grabs a rebound in front of Taya Reimer (12) during their NCAA Tournament opener against Robert Morris on Saturday in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

ROBERT MORRIS (21-12): Artenus Spanou 2-4 2-2 7, Cassie Oursler 1-4 2-3 4, Anna N. Stamolamprou 5-14 0-0 12, Janee Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Ashley Ravelli 2-13 0-0 5, Britta Emberg 0-0 1-2 1, Rebecca Navarro 3-6 0-0 9, Randi Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Kelly Hartwell 1-9 2-4 4, Judith Sole 0-0 0-0 0, Jolie Olingende 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-52 7-11 42.

NOTRE DAME (33-0): Natalie Achonwa 6-10 3-3 15, Ariel Braker 5-7 0-0 10, Lindsay Allen 1-2 0-0 2, Kayla McBride 3-8 1-1 9, Jewell Loyd 7-11 0-0 15, Whitney Holloway 1-3 0-0 2, Kristina Nelson 1-1 0-0 2, Taya Reimer 2-3 2-2 6, Madison Cable 5-9 0-0 13, Michaela Mabrey 6-7 0-0 16, Hannah Huffman 0-1 0-0 0, Markisha Wright 1-2 1-4 3, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 38-64 7-10 93.

Halftime — Notre Dame 50-15. 3-Point Goals — Robert Morris 7-21 (Navarro 3-5, Stamolamprou 2-8, Spanou 1-2, Ravelli 1-6), Notre Dame 10-18 (Mabrey 4-5, Cable 3-4, McBride 2-5, Loyd 1-2, Allen 0-1, Holloway 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Robert Morris 22 (Spanou 6), Notre Dame 45 (Braker, Cable 8). Assists — Robert Morris 9 (Spanou 4), Notre Dame 23 (Allen 7). Total Fouls — Robert Morris 11, Notre Dame 18. A — 4,312.