A friendly face off for Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — After a two-year high school window in which they shared plenty of hardware, Marina Mabrey and Katelynn Flaherty will once again share some hardwood.

The former New Jersey prep superstars will be on opposite sides this time, though, when Mabrey and third-ranked Notre Dame (6-0) visit Flaherty and No. 22 Michigan (4-1) Wednesday in a 6 p.m. women’s college basketball game that will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

“We’re still good friends,” Mabrey said of Flaherty before practice Tuesday. “We went to high school together for a while, we’ve lived really close to each other and we worked out all the time together.”

The two guards are separated by a year, with Flaherty a senior at Michigan and Mabrey a junior for the Irish.

The 5-foot-7 Flaherty became the Wolverines’ all-time scoring leader in a recent loss at Louisville — breaking a mark that stood for more than 35 years — and is at 2,148 points entering Wednesday’s game.

An All-Big Ten first-team selection as both a sophomore and junior, Flaherty is pouring in 25.8 points per game this season to go with 4.0 assists.

The 5-foot-11 Mabrey has fared well, too. She made the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman team in her debut season, was an ACC All-Tourney pick last winter and is a preseason All-ACC choice this season.

Mabrey’s averaging 12.5 points during her ND career and is 25 short of 1,000 entering Wednesday’s contest.

“It’s cool to see us both doing so well in college,” Mabrey said. “I’m happy to see her doing really well, and I think it’s cool that we’re going to get a chance to play against each other.”

They may even guard each other.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw on Tuesday mentioned Jackie Young, “because she’s been our defensive stopper,” and Mabrey, who certainly has an edge in familiarity, as the leading options to defend Flaherty.

In 2011-12, Mabrey was a freshman at Manasquan (N.J.) High and Flaherty was her sophomore teammate.

Manasquan — which also featured Mabrey’s senior sister, eventual ND sharpshooter Michaela — won both the New Jersey Group III state title and the Tournament of Champions crown.

That 32-2 team earned a No. 17 ranking in the final USA Today national poll. Flaherty averaged 21.0 points, Michaela Mabrey 17.0 and Marina Mabrey 14.7.

The following fall, Flaherty and Marina Mabrey each transferred to tiny Point Pleasant Beach.

“We had a coaching change and there was some stuff that went on within the athletic department, so we went to a different high school,” Mabrey explained Tuesday of the move.

Point Pleasant, 4-14 the previous season, morphed into a sudden power, with Mabrey and Flaherty accounting for “about 90 percent of the statistics,” according to one New Jersey publication.

The team won the Group I state title and finished 25-2. Flaherty averaged 30.3 points and Mabrey 26.0.

Then the two friends transferred yet again.

“I moved back to where I was from, and Katelynn moved back to where she was originally from,” Mabrey said of Flaherty landing at Metuchen, where her father and brother starred.

Flaherty wound up missing part of her senior high school season due to injury.

Mabrey missed the first 13 games of her junior season due to a New Jersey transfer rule, but returned to lead Manasquan to a pair of Group II state titles and, in her senior season, a Tourney of Champions crown and a final No. 19 national ranking by USA Today.

Full Nelson

Though she didn’t start — and never has in her Irish career — fifth-year senior Kristina “Coco” Nelson proved a pivotal force for Notre Dame during its 92-85 victory over then-No. 3 South Carolina in Sunday’s Gulf Coast Showcase title game at Estero, Fla.

With Nelson playing all but a few seconds of the second quarter, after never appearing in the first quarter, the Irish turned a 28-18 deficit through one period into a 41-38 lead at the half. It was a lead they never relinquished.

Nelson had six points, two rebounds and coaxed a pair of Carolina charging fouls in that momentum-shifting second quarter. She finished the game with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and a blocked shot in just 12 minutes.

“I wasn’t expecting to go out there and do that well,” Nelson said Tuesday, “but, I don’t know, I just like having fun, and that game was fun.”

“It really was the best she’s played,” McGraw said. “I think she’s sort of flipped the switch and now she’s being a little more aggressive offensively. She was always looking to pass, and she’s a good passer, but now she’s looking to score, and we definitely need that. And defensively, she’s smart.”

Nelson’s consecutive time of 9:47 on the floor in the second quarter basically matched her average per game.

“Probably the last two minutes I was feeling a little tired, but for the most part, I was feeling really good,” Nelson said. “Our strength and conditioning really has us prepared for situations like that.”

McGraw said Nelson’s productivity factored into promising freshman post Mikayla Vaughn’s minutes dropping from an average of 15 to a season-low three for that particular game.

“I thought in that game, to guard A’ja Wilson, that was a lot for a freshman,” McGraw said of the Gamecock senior All-American, “but that’s the great thing about our bench. Coco hardly played against South Florida (in the semifinals) because they were a five-out, spread-it-around team, where you had to guard on the perimeter, and South Carolina with the strong post presence was a great game for her to play.”

Nelson and Vaughn continue to be joined off the bench by senior Kathryn Westbeld and freshman Danielle Patterson in making regular contributions.

“People are coming in ready,” McGraw said. “I think the bench has been spectacular. … “It’s been good to look down the bench and see such positive attitudes.”

Crushing Crisler

While Michigan has been almost unbeatable at Crisler Center over the past couple years, Notre Dame junior Jessica Shepard is one player who has already beaten up the Wolverines pretty good at the facility.

When she was a freshman with Nebraska, Shepard registered still-career highs of 35 points and 20 rebounds in a 93-81 Cornhusker win at Michigan.

Conversely, the Wolverines handily defeated Shepard and Nebraska twice last season. Shepard had 16 points and 17 rebounds over those two games, the second one being in Ann Arbor.

Overall, Michigan has won 31 of its 32 home games since its January 2016 loss to Shepard and the Huskers.

For Wednesday’s visit by Notre Dame, Michigan is offering $5 tickets, available at the gate, which also include a hot dog and drink.

The Irish departed Tuesday night for Ann Arbor, about 175 miles away. It’s their lone away game of the regular season that they’ll journey to by bus rather than by plane.

Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey (3) picks up a loose ball during the Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Notre Dame women's exhibition basketball game in Purcell Pavilion Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame (6-0) vs. No. 22 Michigan (4-1) in Big Ten/ACC Challenge

WHERE: Crisler Center (12,707), Ann Arbor, Mich.

WHEN: Wednesday, 6 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

RADIO: Pulse (96.9/ 92.1 FM)