Notre Dame women don't miss a beat with Mabrey in charge

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Two quick fouls on point guard Lindsay Allen changed the complete dynamic of the Notre Dame women's basketball team.

Not necessarily for the worse.

Just different.

New roles. New voice. Same steady performance.

That's just one trait that makes this Irish team special.

Even though the deck had to be reshuffled four minutes into the game Sunday, Notre Dame had no trouble with the trump card, rolling past Miami, 90-69.

In women's basketball circles, “The U” ain't awful. Maybe a bit undersized at some positions, but still 21-5 and ranked 19th in the country.

That's why Irish coach Muffet McGraw was concerned when Allen, the floor general of the offense, was called for her second foul just four minutes into the game. She turned to senior captain Michaela Mabrey, at one time a one-trick pony as a 3-point specialist, to diversify her talents and command the point.

“With Michaela in the game, she's smart; she's going to get the right people the ball,” said McGraw. “I was really surprised that we were up by that much (19 points) at halftime.

“She's a pass-first guard anyway. It's a pretty easy transition for her.”

Mabrey wasn't flashy, but she was effective. While playing all 20 first-half minutes, Mabrey scored five points and didn't have an assist, but she had only three turnovers against a Miami press that was relentless at times. She added two steals on defense.

Her contributions were instrumental in the Irish leading 44-25 at intermission, eliminating the drama from the rest of the game.

“(Allen's foul trouble) was huge, just huge,” said Miami coach Katie Meier. “(Notre Dame) still turned it over 23 times. If they hadn't turned it over 23 times, they would have scored 115 points on us.

“(Notre Dame) just had some beautiful ball movement. I thought (Allen going to the bench) could change the game, but they just didn't blink. They have great mental toughness and tremendous leadership on the basketball court, no matter who it is. That comes from the top.”

The top … er, uh…, McGraw, has been prepared for such a scenario. Injury, fouls, whatever; there's always a need for help running the team — especially with freshman Ali Patberg, who was supposed to be Allen's understudy, in street clothes with a knee injury that ended her season before it started.

“I'm used to it now,” said Mabrey. “We practice a lot with me (at the point) when Lindsay's out. It's definitely a change of pace, going from (a shooting) guard to the point. The point is a lot harder.”

Mabrey, who returned to her shooting guard role for limited minutes in the second half while deferring to the bench in the blowout, ended with eight points. Besides making sure the offense flowed, one of Mabrey's tasks at the point was to make sure she becomes the voice of the team.

She was much more outspoken than normal against the Hurricanes.

“Lindsay's in complete charge of our team when she's on the court,” Mabrey said. “When she's off the court, I've gotta take up her role. I have to be more vocal. It's a hard job.

“My game's completely different. I'm not looking for my shot that much. I'm just trying to run the offense, keep everyone in control.”

That voice is going to be needed in the coming weeks. The Irish are in the stretch drive. The two weeks before the start of the ACC Tournament can be a lifetime without the proper approach.

“This is a stretch in the season where it's hard,” Mabrey said. “We've been playing for a while. It's easy to lose focus because the time is tough. (We have to) pound it into the heads (of the younger players), 'The postseason's right around the corner. We've gotta be ready for it.'

“It's hard to simulate (not taking success for granted) with the freshmen because they've never been through it. Both of them (her sister Marina and Arike Ogunbowale) are competitive. They'll be alright.”

More than four months into a season in which Mabrey was counted on for leadership, the learning curve has been significant. In fact, she may have even been taken a bit by surprise.

“We've got a helluva team,” Mabrey said. “We've come a long way, losing (junior post) Taya (Reimer to an injury, then transfer), (Brianna Turner) being out for (six games with a shoulder injury). We've struggled through some things. We took some bumps, but we never let it affect us on the court.

“We've got a lot of weapons, it's different than what we've had in the past.”

Especially when roles can change in an instant without a drop-off.

It makes the Irish that much more dangerous.

Notre Dame’s Michaela Mabrey (23), left, motions to teammates as Miami’s Adrienne Motley (23) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)