Marina Mabrey out for Notre Dame women's basketball opener

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — If Friday afternoon’s Notre Dame women’s opener could be contested with everybody stationed in chairs, Marina Mabrey would be out there — and, it turns out, she’d be wickedly effective — but the reality is one the of the iron ladies of Irish basketball will not play.

After appearing in all 110 games that counted during her first three ND seasons, the senior point guard will be sidelined with a nagging left quadriceps injury when the No. 1-ranked defending national champions tip off against Harvard at 4 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

“I’d rather be out there than on the sideline, but I gotta focus on getting healthy first,” an admittedly dejected Mabrey said Thursday afternoon.

“I’m not being conservative at all,” Mabrey said of whether her absence can be tied to early-season caution. “I think I’m just listening to (my body on) when I can go again. Really, it’s just day to day, waiting to see when I feel better.”

Besides ruling Mabrey out for Friday, coach Muffet McGraw described the All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as “questionable” for Monday’s second game against Pennsylvania, also at home.

The coach also said sophomore forward Danielle Patterson will sit out Friday with a swollen knee, but is “probable” for Monday.

Mabrey said she began feeling pain in her quad about a month ago, but continued to practice until “a couple weeks ago.”

Prior to the start of ND’s workout Thursday, Mabrey sat in a folding chair at a handful of spots along the edge of the lane and shot baskets that way.

“That’s all I can do,” she said, adding that she’s not allowed to do anything remotely strenuous with her legs, including therapeutic aquatics.

As it so happens, Mabrey swished nearly every shot from that uncustomary position of sitting in a chair — including at least 47 in a row at one point from about 5 feet. She did so while she and a ball shagger engaged in light conversation unrelated to basketball.

“Oh, really?” Mabrey said of the streak with a perked-up smile while confirming such shots are not part of her routine when healthy. “Wasn’t paying attention. Was just talking.”

With Mabrey out, freshman Jordan Nixon will get the start Friday at point guard, as she did when Mabrey missed ND’s exhibition win 10 days earlier.

“Jordan looks great,” Mabrey said of the New York City native. “She’s a freshman coming into such a huge role with such experienced players. I think she’s taking to it really well, working hard every day. She’s just eager to learn. She’s always studying, watching film, so she’s setting herself up to be really successful.”

McGraw echoed the sentiment.

“She’s doing so many good things,” the coach said. “She’s such a student of the game. I have to be on my toes, because if I tell her the same thing in a different way, it’s like, ‘Well, wait a minute, because yesterday you told me …’ she’s really smart. I have to write down what I’m telling her.

“Yesterday I came into practice early and she was sitting there with the play sheet writing notes to herself on each play,” McGraw continued. “She watches every practice, watches film like crazy and just wants to get better.”

With Mabrey and Patterson both out, Notre Dame’s depth that still appears promising in the long term, becomes compromised in the short term.

Nixon will be joined as starters by four established stars in Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Brianna Turner and Jackie Young, while sophomore center Mikayla Vaughn will likely be first in off the bench.

“Right now, we really have six,” McGraw said, adding that she’s not likely to use some of the other freshmen much because “they’re not ready” from a performance standpoint.

One freshman, Katlyn Gilbert, is expected to wear a harness on her problematic right shoulder throughout the season, according to the coach, then possibly undergo surgery afterwards.

McGraw also said that Nicole Benz, a manager who became a walk-on player last season, has been added to the active roster again. Senior walk-on Maureen Butler remains active as well.

Turning defensive

McGraw agreed Thursday that “seething” is a fitting word for how she was feeling about her team’s defense immediately after last week’s 107-65 exhibition win over Lewis.

A review of the film hasn’t changed her stance on how bad that defense was.

“I just think it’s a mindset,” the coach said of what’s missing on the defensive end. “It’s a willingness to take a charge. We slide over or we move out of the way or we foul or we try to block it, and we’re not really shot blockers except for Bri, so I’d like to see more charges taken, more risk-taking actually. I feel like we could go get steals. I feel like we’re conservative. I’d like a few more liberals.”

McGraw acknowledged there might be a residual effect from last winter, when the Irish at times had to be strategically conservative on defense after having four players sidelined for the season by knee injuries.

“I wonder about that,” McGraw said. “It’s not like I want them to foul, but I would like them to get in position a little more.”

Turner, a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year who missed all of last season with her knee injury, said the team’s collective effort can be better.

“Just as a group, it’s having more of a sense of urgency,” the former AP second-team All-American said, “and limiting the amount of (3-pointers) we give up because, of course, those can add up quickly. So it’s just a matter of being more aware all together.”

Added Turner, “We need all five people on the court to play defense at the same time. It’s very much a team aspect of our game.”

Banner countdown

Don’t show up at the Harvard game expecting to see the national championship banner unveiled.

That comes before Monday’s second game, which is set for a 7 p.m. tip against Pennsylvania at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey (3) catches her breath late in the fourth quarter during the the national championship game in April.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: Harvard (18-11 in 2017-18) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (35-3 in 2017-18).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.

WHEN: Friday, 4 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WEB: ACCN Extra.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: The 4 p.m. start for a Friday opener is related to other activities happening during a home football weekend. … This is the first time Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in both major polls — Associated Press and coaches’ — entering a season. The Irish were No. 1 in the AP poll only heading into the 2016-17 season. … Harvard returns six of its top seven scorers from an 18-11 club, led by junior guard Katie Benzan, a two-time All-Ivy League first-teamer who averaged 13.5 points and 3.8 assists last season. She hit 99-of-220 on 3-pointers for 45 percent and is a career 89 percent free throw shooter. Others back include 6-3 junior forward Jeannie Boehm (9.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks as a sophomore) and senior guard Madeline Raster, a South Bend Saint Joseph grad who has averaged 10.2 points over the last two seasons and made 84 straight starts. … Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith (585-395) and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw (888-271) are each beginning their 37th years as collegiate head coaches, but have met just twice. McGraw won both times, a 77-58 Lehigh win over the Crimson in December 1985 and a 97-43 Irish win in November 2014 when Harvard visited ND as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge. … The Irish have won 23 straight season openers, the last loss being 65-60 in overtime at Seton Hall in 1994.

QUOTING: “We gotta fix it now. I don’t think it can wait. Then we play a really good team and we go, ‘Oh, today we’re going to defend.’ I don’t think it works that way. I think you gotta have good habits.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on her team’s defense.