Freshman Jordan Nixon getting the point as No. 1 Notre Dame takes on 15th-ranked DePaul

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Jordan Nixon doesn’t view them as passed-up shots. She views them as passes to get better shots.

But she also acknowledges that at some point she may have to take some of those shots just to keep defenses honest.

The Notre Dame freshman point guard and pointedly dedicated student of the game could make her third regular-season start Saturday when the top-ranked Irish (2-0) face their stiffest women’s basketball challenge yet, a road contest against No. 15-rated DePaul (1-0) at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.

Irish senior point guard Marina Mabrey, who has yet to play this season, is again described as “questionable” by coach Muffet McGraw. Mabrey, a returning All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, sat out practice Thursday as she continued to recover from a lingering left quadriceps injury.

If Mabrey doesn’t appear Saturday, that again means more time for Nixon.

Over her first two starts, Nixon has logged 52 minutes and attempted a mere three field goals, making one. In her last game, Notre Dame’s 75-55 win Monday over Penn, Nixon’s point total matched her uniform number — zero.

At less than one try every 17 minutes, Nixon is hovering around last in the nation in shooting frequency.

“Looking at the film, I’ve definitely passed up a couple opportunities,” Nixon said prior to Thursday’s practice, “but at this point in the season, I think it’s really important that we work some little things out.

“I think scoring is pretty much second nature for all of us,” Nixon explained. “The coaches have been constantly pounding the idea that we can get what we want (offensively), so I go into the games thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to get what we want.’ Maybe that means I have to give up a pull-up so Bri (Turner) can get a lob, or give up that shot so we can get another high-percentage shot.

“I wouldn’t really call it deferring, just more working for the shot we want and working out things we need to work out.”

It’s that calculating kind of perspective that has drawn glowing reviews from McGraw and from Nixon’s teammates.

“For a freshman coming in and being able to learn all the offense and then essentially run the offense from the point guard, she’s done a good job,” senior Jessica Shepard said Thursday.

Last winter, Nixon was pacing The Mary Louis Academy in New York City at 22 points a game on her way to winning Miss New York honors as the state’s premier player.

This winter, she doesn’t have to be the top offensive option, nor anything remotely resembling it given that she’s often on the floor with two past All-Americans (Turner and Arike Ogunbowale) and two additional Naismith Watch selections in Shepard and Jackie Young.

“Just getting used to playing with four other great players at the same time is different for her,” Shepard said, “but she’s doing everything she can. She watches film all the time, asks a lot of questions. She really wants to be good.”

McGraw says the 5-foot-8 guard will get her points in time.

“She’s so capable,” McGraw said of Nixon taking and making shots at the collegiate level. “I think defensively, you are going to see teams dropping off her and that’s when I think she’ll finally figure out that she can score also. She’s gotten a little more aggressive at practice. I think a little of it is me encouraging her to shoot a little more, whereas initially, I just wanted her to learn the offense, and I think she’s so busy doing that, that she hasn’t really even had time to look for herself. She’s just happy when we can execute.”

On the season, Nixon may have just four points (2-of-2 at the line to go with that 1-of-3 at the field), but she also quick-flipped her assist-to-turnover ratio from game one to game two, going from 3-6 to 5-2, and she’s made three steals, good for a five-way tie for the team lead.

“Going into each game or each practice, I do have to remind myself it’s still basketball — the same game, 10 people on the court competing,” Nixon said of what’s been the biggest adjustment to collegiate play, “but I’d also say just the level of detail, the attention to detail, in college has been different from high school.

“In practice here, we just keep at it until we pretty much perfect it. There’s so many working pieces in the college game. I’d probably say that’s the biggest difference.”

Yet, it’s hardly a difference that requires a new approach from Nixon. After all, she says she studied the details in high school as well.

“I think that’s just part of who I am,” Nixon said. “I value preparation, and how ever I can best prepare, it’s what I’m going to do.”

Darting demons

Chaos, according to McGraw, is what awaits the Irish inside Wintrust.

That and a super-seasoned basketball team.

Not only does DePaul have five of its top six scorers back from last winter’s late-surging club that went 27-8, shared the Big East regular-season title, smoked all comers in the Big East Tournament and was nipped 80-79 by Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tourney, but the Blue Demons also have sixth-year guard Rebekah Dahlman.

A former transfer from Vanderbilt, Dahlman received a second medical redshirt after she was sidelined for the season in DePaul’s opener last November.

In her debut this season, she scored 21 points to lead the Demons to a 73-64 victory over Green Bay.

DePaul’s had eight days since that game to prepare for Notre Dame.

“They’re very difficult to defend,” McGraw said of the Demons. “They play five out. We have a lot of post players right now, but guarding on the perimeter’s not our strength, so we’ve got to be really, really focused. I think we’ve got to be really smart. We’re going to defend a little differently than we normally do.

“They’re going to try to make it chaotic,” the coach continued. “They’re just gonna scramble and press and double-team the entire game, so it’s going to be something where we’ve got to take care of the ball, which we’ve not done a good job of so far, so we’ve got a lot of worries about this game.”

Notre Dame freshman Jordan Nixon is working out well at point guard, with Marina Mabrey still sidelined with an injury.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Who: No. 1 Notre Dame (2-0) vs. No. 15 DePaul (1-0).

Where: Wintrust Arena (10,387), Chicago.

When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET.

Tickets: Available, $18 to $75.

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

Web: DePaulBlueDemons.com ($).

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Noting: Sixth-year player Rebakah Dahlman tallied 21 points in DePaul’s season-opening win over Green Bay last week. She’s joined as Blue Demon veterans by five of last season’s top six scorers in Mart’e Grays (14.4 points per game), Ashton Millender (13.6; 103-of-249 on 3-pointers for 41.4 percent), Chante Stonewall (10.7), Kelly Campbell (10.6, to go with 8.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists) and Tanita Allen (9.3). DePaul averaged 12.1 made 3s per game last season and shot 36.4 percent outside the arc. … The Irish needed Jessica Shepard’s Purcell Pavilion-record 39 points to help post a 91-82 mid-December win over the Demons last Dec. 17. … ND leaders this season include Arike Ogunbowale (25.5 points, 5.5 assists), Shepard (22.5 points, 8.0 rebounds), Brianna Turner (13.5 points, 10.5 rebounds) and Jackie Young (10.0 points, 4.5 assists). … The Irish have won 10 straight over former Big East rival DePaul. … ND coach Muffet McGraw is 19-12 vs. Demon coach Doug Bruno, who took five of the first six meetings. … Ideally for the Irish, Saturday will be the first of multiple trips this season to Wintrust Arena, which is also the site of the closest NCAA Regional next March.