Mabrey's impact for Notre Dame a product of work, short memory

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Mention the NCAA Tournament. Knock on wood.

That’s the extent of Michaela Mabrey’s superstition.

Beyond that, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s sniper is focused on her work, so she leaves nothing to chance.

When Mabrey finds the range, so many other dimensions in the Irish offense are opened up.

She’s always the first option. In the early stages of a game, Notre Dame can live with some defensive liabilities that Mabrey has, just in case she can get hot.

When she’s “on,” the 5-foot-10 junior captain is like a Christmas tree in January – just a little spark can quickly turn into a roaring fire from the perimeter.

It happened Sunday night. She hit a soft floater from 10 feet early, which was the fuel that ignited a long-range assault that ended in a 19-point production in a win over DePaul in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

How much of an impact can she have against No. 4 seed Stanford in the Oklahoma City Regional semifinal Friday? Plenty, but before she talks about it, she has to find a table in the Irish locker room and rap it a few times.

“In anything that has to do with the (NCAA) tournament, me and (teammate) Hannah Huffman always have to knock on wood,” said Mabrey, as she scanned the room for the closest timber.

Having satisfied the terms of the superstition and avoided any curse, Mabrey could freely talk about what her effectiveness can mean to the Irish.

“(When I’m hitting), it stretches out the defense and opens up everyone else,” she said. “The main reason I want to keep hitting is that it opens things up for everyone else. (The defense) has to go out on me, so that makes it easier for the post players to get in position. It also frees up (guards) Jewell (Loyd) and Lindsay (Allen) more.”

“(When Mabrey’s hitting) it takes off the pressure of the inside game,” Loyd said. “If you have an outside shooter (that the defense) can’t ‘help off,’ you can’t really sag in the paint.

“It opens up the driving lanes for Lindsay and me to create. If they sag in, we shoot it back to (Mabrey) or (Madison Cable) and they usually knock it down.”

“We started out trying to go inside,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of the plan against the Blue Demons. “Once we got the inside going, (DePaul) started packing it in. It opened things up for (Mabrey). She starts hitting 3s, they have to come out and we could go back inside again.

“It’s great for our offense.”

The life of a sniper, though, isn’t all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. There are some high highs (like hitting 6 of 9 3-pointers and scoring 20 points against Boston College Feb. 8). And there are some low lows (like going the next nine games without reaching double figures, hitting a combined 9 of 37 3-pointers – 24 percent).

Overall, after the 5-of-7 3-point exhibition against DePaul, Mabrey is averaging 7.3 points while hitting 67 of 177 3-pointers (37 percent).

“The thing about Michaela is that she’s fearless,” said McGraw. “She’s the type of player that isn’t worried about what happened yesterday. She’s moving on. She’s going to shoot the ball. She never passes up a shot.

“That’s her job. Shoot the ball.”

“You just have to keep shooting,” Mabrey said. “I’ve been in a slump. I’ve gone through a game and not hit one (actually, she’s had seven), or just got one, or a couple… I’m not feeling as confident in myself. But I know, I have to keep shooting. Everybody tells a shooter that. Get in the gym, get the shots that you’re going to get in the games.

“Every time you shoot it, you know it’s going in.”

That’s the way she has to approach the next step of the NCAA Tournament ladder.

Knock on wood.

Notre Dame’s Michaela Mabrey (23) handles the ball at the point Friday, March 20, 2015, during the Notre Dame-Montana First Round game in the NCAA Women's tournament at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

Who: No. 1 Notre Dame (33-2) vs. No. 4 Stanford (26-9)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Okla.

When: Friday, 10 p.m. EDT

TV: ESPN

Radio: WHPZ-FM (96.9), WHPD-FM (92.1)