Mabrey needs to get her shots for Irish

South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Go through the options. Figure out the possibilities. Come to a conclusion.

Notre Dame needs to fill an offensive void created by the injury to senior All-American Natalie Achonwa (15 points a game) when the Irish meet Maryland Sunday in the Final Four.

Irish women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw has designated Taya Reimer to replace Achonwa’s defense and rebounding. That was the easy part.

But discovering more points from an assortment of role players — who contribute alongside standouts Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd — is the challenge.

The best-case conclusion: Michaela Mabrey. Of course, getting shots for her will be the first order of business. Once she gets the shots, it’s a good bet they’re going to go in.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese is quite aware of who Mabrey, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, is, and what she can do for the Notre Dame offense. The Irish sniper hit 3 of 6 3-pointers and scored 13 critical points in a four-point victory over the Terps in late January.

“Mabrey was phenomenal the first time we played,” Frese said Saturday. “Now, you have to keep (her) in check. I really feel all their guards are extremely talented.

“There aren’t many teams like Notre Dame that can score the first time they look at the basket. Often times, in women’s basketball, you need to get a couple more chances, maybe an offensive rebound put-back. But, Notre Dame is so efficient in terms of their first look. It normally goes in.”

Can’t go in if it’s never shot. That’s the philosophy opposing defenses have had against Mabrey during the last three NCAA Tournament games.

In wins over Arizona State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, Mabrey was able to get off just three 3-pointers, making one. Defenders made life difficult for her, constantly pushing her a couple feet beyond her comfort zone, thus taking her out of the equation.

But, with a focus on Mabrey, other opportunities can arise.

“I don’t really think about (getting her feet set and square to the basket) much,” Mabrey said. “Coach has so much confidence in me to shoot the ball whenever I want. It might be a bad shot, but coach doesn’t mind if I take those shots.

“It is frustrating, being pushed out that far. If I can’t get the shots I want, I try to do other things; play on defense, get somebody else open. If they push me out that far, somebody else has got to be open. It might be frustrating, but it opens up other opportunities.”

“Mike can get shots,” McGraw said. “She’s pretty good at finding her shots. We have some things we’re going to do (against Maryland Sunday) to put her in a position to score; a couple new wrinkles in the offense.”

Mabrey’s not an athletic defender or quick play-maker. She shoots. She’s averaging 8.8 points this season, shooting 43 percent (70 of 164) from 3-point range. If the NCAA statistical rules made sense, she’d rank 13th in the country and the best on the floor in either game Sunday. However, the mandate is a player must average two made 3-pointers a game to be considered in the stats. Mabrey is two bombs shy of qualifying.

If she can break into the stats column after Sunday’s game (which would mean she’d have to make at least four), the Irish will be on their way to the title game.

“(Mabrey) has been such a huge threat on the perimeter,” said Irish assistant Beth Cunningham, her position coach. “She’s no surprise. People know she’s come in numerous games and hit huge shots for us in big moments. People have an awareness where she is.

“A little bit (of her production) depends on matchups. Some games she’s been playing more minutes. Others, she’s been down. It’s not one particular thing.

“In our last game, she may have rushed a few shots. It may have been being antsy, wanting to hit one so badly. She just needs to relax, come out and take the shots she normally does.

“She had a great week of practice. We’ve been getting extra shots up. There’s no one I have more confidence in to knock down the big shot than Mike.”

Get her a shot. Give her a chance.

Notre Dame likely will add a few new wrinkles on offense to get sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (23) more shots in Sunday's national semifinal game against Maryland. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)