Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey aims for encore versus Valpo

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame women’s basketball fans would love an encore when the Irish entertain Valparaiso Sunday (1 p.m.).

Last December, Marina Mabrey, coming off the bench posted a triple-double and showed the impact she could have on college basketball, leading the Irish to a 110-54 victory over Valparaiso.

Mabrey’s feat against Valparaiso included 18 points, 12 steals and 10 assists. The 12 steals is an ND record. Mabrey made even getting the ball into an offensive set difficult for the Crusaders.

“I did notice (the Valpo guard) had a tendency to do a crossover after a couple dribbles," Mabrey said. "I just tried to focus in on defense.”

Mabrey’s focus led to a number of easy steals and ensuing layups for the Irish.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw wants her team to focus on its own game when the Crusaders come calling.

“We just need to work on us," said McGraw. "We have to figure out where we are as a team defensively. We need to see what works best.”

McGraw certainly would enjoy seeing the kind of defense Mabrey played last year repeated by her players again. She was frustrated a bit in Wednesday night's 73-58 victory over Iowa.

“We had chances to extend our lead, but just let the other team back in the game with some defensive breakdowns,” said McGraw.

The Crusaders, coached by Tracey Dorow in her fifth season at Valparaiso are coming off a Saturday afternoon victory over Eastern Illinois, 73-68.

The 7-0 Irish continue to hold the nation’s No. 1 ranking. A Wednesday night showdown at home with No. 2 Connecticut will be a test.

Mabrey has helped the Irish post that unblemished record, including spending some time at point guard - a foreign territory to her.

“It’s definitely new playing the point,” Mabrey said. “I never played point in high school. Being a distributor is new to me.”

Yet Mabrey has played well.

The Irish know they need to get stellar floor general Lindsay Allen some minutes off the floor during games. Mabrey and junior Mychal Johnson both have run the point when Allen is getting a breather. Sophomore Ali Patberg, who missed last season with a knee injury, has been dealing with an illness.

“We are trying to slow her (Mabrey) down a little bit," said McGraw. "We want her to look, catch and survey rather than catch and dribble.

“Patience - that is the part she is learning – and the discipline. But whatever I tell her about, the next day tries to fix it. She has been really good at that.”

Another thing Mabrey is good at is scoring, especially when she is at her normal wing position. Two games ago, Mabrey erupted for a career-high 27 points.

McGraw thinks her two freshmen players -- Jackie Young and Erin Boley -- are capable of having the breakout game that Mabrey did last year against Valparaiso.

“Erin is starting to come along," McGraw said. "If I had to pick a player most improved from the beginning of the season to now, it would be her. She is starting to get more comfortable. I would like to see her play a bigger role.”

Young has been impressive in the early season, despite missing two games with a thumb injury. Young is averaging 8.2 points and 19 minutes. She also has been good on the boards (4.6 average) and in the Irish transition game.

Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey (3) chases down the ball during Notre Dame's 71-60 win against Washington on Nov. 20. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)