Michaela Mabrey steps up with big shots for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Hard work, hustle, scrappiness and intensity all have their place in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament.

But there’s no substitute for sheer talent.

Something to be said for bringing in one McDonald’s All-American to replace another.

That’s a luxury that allowed Notre Dame to eliminate DePaul Sunday night, 79-67, and earn a spot in Friday’s Oklahoma City Regional semifinal.

It’s a spot that hardly was handed to the top-seeded Irish. This was the same DePaul team that should have beaten the Irish in overtime before Santa Claus came around.

Granted, they were different teams then. Irish freshman Brianna Turner missed the first game while recovering from her shoulder injury. Blue Demon guard Megan Rogowski was averaging double-digit scoring when she was lost with a knee injury 14 games into the season.

One of those high school All-Americans is Notre Dame’s designated long-range specialist Michaela Mabrey. Hardly a threat to set the world on fire as a defensive stopper, the 5-foot-10 junior did what she does best – she shot.

After going nine games without reaching double figures, Mabrey lit up the Blue Demons. She had 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers, including a couple in the first half that turned the momentum in the direction of the Irish.

The most encouraging element to come out of the Notre Dame victory was that it was able to win decisively without Jewell Loyd playing at maximum – or even partial – potential. The Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year connected on just 3-of-15 shots, missing two uncontested layups and uncharacteristically passing instead of taking another one in which she wasn’t guarded.

The scariest moment came just before intermission when Turner left the bench early to have her knee examined in the dressing room. She returned at full strength for the second half.

It wasn’t always easy on the Irish.

Five turnovers in the first five minutes (and change); 44 percent shooting from the field; and a six-point deficit.

That wasn’t the way No. 1 seed Notre Dame wanted to start against No. 9 DePaul.

With only one player taller than 6-foot (6-2 Megan Podkowa), DePaul was at a serious disadvantage against the likes of Notre Dame’s Turner (6-3) and Taya Reimer (6-3). It was the Blue Demons, though, who forced the Irish to adjust.

When things went sour early, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw went to her bench early and went with a smaller lineup. Turner and Reimer spent some time on the bench early, in favor of Hannah Huffman (a seldom-used player) and Madison Cable (a regular spark off the bench).

Despite the lineup changes and changes in strategy, the Irish struggled with wrestling the momentum from DePaul.

The Blue Demons disrupted the flow of the Notre Dame offense. The Irish had trouble getting their spacing right. Cuts to the basket weren’t effective. The lane clogged before there was a chance to make an impact.

Notre Dame fought up hill through the first 14 minutes. Finally, back-to-back 3-pointers by Michaela Mabrey keyed a 12-0 run and pushed the Irish ahead to 29-24.

These are two teams with a history.

Coaches McGraw and Doug Bruno are cut from the same cloth. Hard-nosed. No-nonsense. A knack for getting the best out of their players.

That’s why Sunday night’s game was so entertaining.

Notre Dame's Michaela Mabrey (23) cheers from the bench against DePaul Sunday, March 22, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ