Notre Dame braces for Carter, Texas A&M

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

CHICAGO — Chennedy Carter has found almost as many ways to miss games this season as she’s found ways to win them.

She doesn’t plan on missing this one, though, so Notre Dame’s concern will be finding a way to keep her from winning another.

Easier said than done.

“I don’t think there is a way to stop her,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Friday of Texas A&M’s dynamite 5-foot-7 guard, the same one who nearly keyed the Aggies to an upset of ND last season when she was just a freshman.

“She is almost unstoppable,” McGraw said. “She’s had a great year, and she’s played well in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.”

“She’s definitely an elite scorer,” ND forward Brianna Turner added, “maybe reminds me some of (Louisville All-American) Asia Durr. She can get to the basket. She can hit the 3. She really gets their team going, so we know it’s going to be a lot of offense run through her.”

Carter and fourth-seeded A&M (26-7) face the top-seeded Irish (32-3) in Saturday’s opening Chicago Regional women’s basketball semifinal at Wintrust Arena.

Tagged with the same exact seeds they have now, the two clubs also met in the regional semifinal round last season, that one in Spokane, Wash., with ND rallying to prevail 90-84 after the Aggies led by 13 in the first half.

Carter had 31 points and seven assists that day, and it was not an unusual performance for her.

At 30.2, she’s one of just three women in Division I history — joining all-time greats Sheryl Swoopes and Elena Delle Donne — to average at least 30 points in their NCAA Tourney careers with a minimum of five games played.

Not that filling the scoring column is all Carter’s doing, either.

“The fact she gave up the ball (for) the 3-point shot to win the game against Marquette,” McGraw said, referring to Shambria Washington’s basket off a pass from Carter with 23 seconds left in the Aggies’ 78-76 second-round victory, “I think that shows tremendous maturity in her game. I think last year, she probably would’ve shot that.”

Carter, who is 20-of-37 on 3-pointers in her NCAA Tourney career, added nine rebounds and five assists against the Golden Eagles.

“That’s what’s making her a complete player,” A&M coach Gary Blair said of the leading active career scorer in Division I at 22.8 points per game. “Her defense was outstanding (against Marquette). We didn’t talk about defense last year with her. That wasn’t very pretty. But her defense when she’s hooked up and playing it well … is very good. Her passing ability, she enjoys the pass as much as the score.”

She’d enjoy beating the Irish even more.

“Bittersweet end to last year,” Carter said of being eliminated by the eventual national champs.

“Didn’t really accomplish the things we wanted to. But for us all to get another chance, and me to really get out there and be with my teammates, I’m really excited.

“Notre Dame is a great team filled with a bunch of great guards, so I’m ready to test my game, and I’m sure my teammates are ready to play as well.”

Those teammates don’t draw the attention Carter does, but they have gone 3-2 in the games she’s missed, they’ve been tested by other hardships such as losing then-No. 2 scorer Aaliyah Wilson (13.8 points) for the remainder of the season to a knee injury just nine games in, and they’ve joined Carter in knocking off three top-15 opponents with a four-sophomore, one-junior starting lineup.

Carter herself missed one game in November due to a violation of team attendance rules, missed one in December due to a foot injury, missed another in December due to the flu, then missed a pair in the SEC Tournament three weeks ago with a fractured pinky finger.

“I think we’ve overcome adversity and good play (by opponents) and bad play as well as any team I’ve ever coached,” said Blair, who is 791-321 in 34 years spanning stops at Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas and A&M.

Each of the Aggies’ four most productive players are sophomores in Carter, backcourt mate Kayla Wells, center Ciera Johnson and forward N’dea Jones.

Carter’s averaging 22.9 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. A streaky shooter at times, she’s at 43 percent on 2s and 33 percent on 3s.

Wells is averaging 15.0 points and rates among the team’s leaders in every brand of shot at 51 percent on 2s, 39 percent on 3s (42-of-108) and 81 percent at the line.

The 6-foot-4 Johnson, a transfer from Louisville, is averaging 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and is shooting 53 percent from the field.

The 6-2 Jones is the nation’s No. 11 rebounder at 11.4 per game and adds 7.7 points.

“(Carter’s) really the glue to their team,” Irish All-American guard Arike Ogunbowale said, “so we’re definitely going to have to stop her, but they also have great players around her.”

Mabrey ‘a lot better’

Notre Dame shooting ace Marina Mabrey said Friday she was “feeling a lot better” than she did during the team’s last game, Monday’s second-round win over Michigan State, but neither she nor McGraw was ready to term the senior all the way back.

“I don’t know yet,” Mabrey said before practice at Wintrust of whether she’s full throttle. “We’ll find out. I would say, yeah, but I don’t know, so I’ll say, we’ll see.”

“I wouldn’t say she was a hundred percent this week,” McGraw said earlier Friday of Mabrey’s most recent practices. “She’s able to get a lot of shots up, but as far as up and down (the court), not quite as much as we would like.”

Mabrey, ND’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets and averaging 13.0 points this season, suffered a hyperextension to her right knee on March 18 and missed most of the week’s practices leading up to last weekend’s first two NCAA Tourney games.

She scored just two points over 52 minutes in those games, hitting 1-of-9 shots, but also dished 11 assists against three turnovers and made four steals.

McGraw said after the win over the Spartans that Mabrey was slowed in the two games by the fact that she had not been able to practice for most of the previous two weeks when including the time the players had off for spring break.

“Marina’s the type of player that she needs to be in the gym every day, she wants to be in the gym every day, so for her to take two weeks off was really hard for her,” McGraw said. “She’s almost a little impatient. She wanted to be back out there, she wants to do everything well. She got to shoot a little bit, but she really hasn’t gotten her wind back yet.

“I think she did a great job in the second half (against Michigan State). … I think she’s just trying to find her way again, and we’re doing so well around her that she doesn’t have to score as much, so I think she didn’t force anything, she just took what they gave her. Tonight, and the last game, too, was all about throwing it in the post, so I think she’s done a really good job of doing what we’ve asked her to do.”

Notre Dame goes up against Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, left, one of the country’s top players, in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game in Chicago.
Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey, right, tries to move by Michigan State's Taryn McCutcheon during last Monday's NCAA tourney game at Notre Dame.  Mabrey still isn't certain she'll be 100 percent healthy for Saturday's game.


WHO: Notre Dame (32-3) vs. Texas A&M (26-7), followed by Stanford (30-4) vs. Missouri State (25-9) in NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.

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

WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. ET.

TICKETS: Available, $12 to $27 for Saturday only; $20 to $52 for both regional rounds (final round Monday at 9 p.m.).


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


NOTING: Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Texas A&M’s Gary Blair are meeting for just the fourth time in their combined 71 years as head coaches, but it will be their third NCAA Tournament matchup. Blair’s Aggies beat the Irish 76-70 in the 2011 national championship, before McGraw’s Irish won a neutral-site, regular-season rematch 83-74 the next December, then took last season’s round-of-16 battle 90-84. … With four sophomores and one junior, the Aggies feature the youngest starting lineup among teams in the Sweet 16. ND, with four seniors and one junior, has the most veteran lineup among the remaining teams. … A&M, ranked No. 14 in the final Associated Press poll of the season, is 4-3 against AP-rated teams, highlighted by a 76-70 neutral-site win over Oregon State. The Irish, No. 3 in the final poll, are 10-2 against AP-rated clubs, led by wins over Louisville teams that were No. 2 and No. 3 at the time of the matchups.

QUOTING: “There’s really no pressure on us because no one expects us to do anything, so … it’s another game for us, and we’re playing a very great Notre Dame team, so we’ve just got to come out, play hard and play together, and we’ll be all right.” — Ciera Johnson, Texas A&M center, on facing the Irish.