Notre Dame guard Marina Mabrey handles midseason position transition

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent


Marina Mabrey heads into every game with the same goal — “to be better than I was the last game.”

While it’s the kind of goal that’s easy to understand, it’s also one that has so far proven impossible for any human being to achieve.

Further in Mabrey’s case, it’s one that was complicated at mid-season by some new responsibilities being hoisted upon her.

Yet, here she is, despite those new elements, not flinching and mostly thriving as the Notre Dame women’s basketball season heads into its home stretch.

The junior has become the No. 5-ranked Irish’s primary point guard since a season-ending injury to graduate transfer Lili Thompson almost six weeks ago.

“It’s been a major transformation,” Mabrey conceded this past weekend in advance of ND’s 72-54 victory at No. 19 Duke. “Being on a wing, a two guard, is much different — you just have to score and stuff like that.

“(Point guard’s) a whole different mindset,” Mabrey said. “It’s hard to think like a point guard when you’ve been thinking like a two for 10 years. … It’s a little bit harder than being a wing. You gotta think about what the team needs, where to get certain people the ball, personnel, where the mismatches are, stuff like that.”

Mabrey and the Irish held limited options at the point after Thompson was hurt, that injury occurring after still another point guard candidate, senior Mychal Johnson, was lost for the season to injury in October.

Upon Thompson being sidelined, coach Muffet McGraw indicated that Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young would each get turns at the point, but it’s been mostly Mabrey out there.

Ogunbowale is possibly too essential to the team’s success as a scorer to compromise, while Young is busy as a scorer, deluxe defender and even the team’s No. 2 rebounder.

Mabrey and McGraw huddled over the situation in early January.

“It was kind of the conclusion (that) there is nobody else, so we just kind of came to a conclusion together, a mutual agreement that I was going to be the point guard,” Mabrey said.

While the transition to the new position has been choppy at times, the ever-driven Mabrey has nonetheless advanced her total game.

In fact, she posted maybe her most potent overall week in an Irish uniform last week. Spanning wins over North Carolina and the Blue Devils, Mabrey scored 43 points, dished 11 assists, made 10 steals and grabbed nine rebounds. She was 14-of-26 from the field with seven 3-pointers (a blistering net field goal percentage of 67.3) and 8-of-8 at the line as the Irish improved to 22-2.

Of course, by the next time she plays — based on that aforementioned game-to-game goal she has — those numbers will only be further motivation.

“I’m hard on myself,” admitted Mabrey, a deadly serious player who on the court often appears wound tighter than her hair tie.

“I think I can do a lot better than I am, but I just gotta keep working, keep on with with it,” Mabrey said. “I think I’m just trying to get better every game.”

Frankly, Mabrey’s been markedly better since Dec. 31, the date of Thompson’s season-ending injury, than she was before.

In those 11 games, she’s averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.5 steals. She’s registered a net field goal percentage of 59.8, drained 26-of-65 on 3-pointers for 40 percent and is 19-of-19 at the line.

By comparison, Mabrey’s figures in those same categories over the first 13 games this season were 11.8, 3.2, 1.2, 44.7 percent, 19-of-71 for 26.7 percent and 26-of-32.

In the interest of full disclosure, she did average 2.4 turnovers her first 13 games and is at 3.9 over the last 11, but that seems miniscule in light of her other contributions, the uptick in how much she’s handling the ball and the fact that she’s still learning point guard.

“I think Marina is constantly evolving,” McGraw assessed last week. “I think she has a game where she looks fantastic at the point, then has a game where she’s really able to score.”

Deciding which will best benefit the team in the long run is an ongoing challenge.

“It’s a lot of pressure on her,” McGraw acknowledged of Mabrey being at the point, “(but) I think she’s got some pressure releases now.”

Among those, Young has continued to play some point as well, and even forward Kathryn Westbeld has stepped out top a little more.

“We’re setting some screens for her,” McGraw said of Mabrey, ND’s season leader in 3-pointers, free throw percentage, assists and steals, “so I think we’re doing some things to help her get us into the offense.”

While she doesn’t envision herself ever becoming a so-called pure point guard, and does openly admit her “love” for scoring, Mabrey says she wants to provide “whatever I can for the team.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s a pass-first mentality,” Mabrey said of her approach to point guard. “I would say it’s more of a taking what they give me. If they’re not going to guard me, I’m going to score. If they’re going to take me away, I’m going to find my teammates.”

Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey (3) drives in next to North Carolina's Jamie Cherry (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 94-62. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)