Michaela Mabrey's Notre Dame squad to meet Dara Mabrey's Hokies

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — There are no secrets among sisters, at least when the sisters are the Mabreys and the context is the basketball court.

“I know all of her tendencies,” Notre Dame assistant coach Michaela Mabrey bragged with a laugh Wednesday afternoon of kid sibling and Virginia Tech guard Dara Mabrey.

“Everything is fair game,” Michaela added of what among those tendencies she’s willing to share with Irish players heading into the Hokies’ visit to Purcell Pavilion on Thursday night.

Notre Dame assistants take turns handling the scouting reports for given games, and as it turns out, Michaela did indeed have those duties for this game.

“I’m doing the same exact scouting report for (the Tech game) that I would do for anybody else, and I do know her tendencies, so I do have a little bit of edge,” Michaela said, “but I can’t go out there and do it. I’m just going to give our team the scouting report, and hopefully they follow it. But it should be a very fun game.”

Michaela, who completed a distinguished Irish playing career in 2016, returned to her alma mater this season as an assistant. Dara is in her sophomore season at Tech.

A year ago as a freshman, Dara went against middle sister Marina Mabrey in the latter’s final season playing for Notre Dame.

Marina decisively got the best of Dara — swatting away her younger sister’s driving shot on the Hokies’ first possession of the game and going on to score 15 points and dish four assists, while Dara finished 2-of-14 from the field for five points — and the No. 1-ranked Irish decisively got the best of the Hokies, 80-51.

“That was an exciting game for me to be able to watch,” said Michaela, who was on staff at LSU at the time, “and to see that matchup between them just brought back memories of when we were younger.”

This time around, Tech (19-6 overall, 9-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) is markedly better than a year ago, ND (10-16, 5-9) is markedly not what it was a year ago, Dara’s a year older and there’s no sister on the court to directly defend her.

“I obviously want us to win,” Michaela said of how she hopes this edition of Mabrey vs. Mabey plays out, “but I want (Dara) to do well. … I always want her to do well.”

Last season was the first time in Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s then 37 years leading a program that she was involved in a sister facing a sister on the court, as far as she could recall, and this time’s the first time, she believes, that she’ll be involved in one sister as an assistant going against another as a player.

“It’s gotta be hard for her,” McGraw said of Michaela, “(but) I thought it would be hard for Marina, but it wasn’t. She was competitive enough to go out and go like, ‘Not only do we want to beat ’em, I want to guard her.’”

While Michaela may possess a similar sentiment about winning, she’ll have less direct control.

“I’m not playing against her, I’m just scouting her, but it’s definitely unique,” Michaela said. “I think it’ll be a little weird.”

For the Irish, it also figures to be challenging.

Dara heads into Thursday as the Hokies’ No. 2 scorer at 12.7 points per game. She’s also drained 66-of-172 on 3-pointers for 38.4%, and with two-plus seasons remaining in her college career, she’s on pace to breeze by her sisters from outside the arc.

Marina hit 274-of-685 for Notre Dame to finish No. 1 on the Irish chart in makes and No. 5 in percentage at 40.0, while Michaela closed at 228-of-576, which places her No. 5 in makes and No. 6 in percentage at 39.6.

Dara has converted 146-of-345 for 42.3%.

“I’m sure she’s excited for this game,” Michaela said. “We’re both excited.”

Similar to what Marina and Dara did a year go, Michaela and Dara were planning Wednesday to spend some of the night before the contest together.

A year ago, the Mabrey parents, Roy and Patti, also attended the showdown, but this time, neither they, Marina (who’s playing in a league in Latvia), nor the sisters’ two brothers will be able to make it.

“It’s just us two, our little celebration,” Michaela said. “Marina will be at the ACC Tournament (March 4-8 in Greensboro, N.C.), along with the rest of my family, so that’ll also be a nice time.”

Hokies no hoax

The Hokies are chasing their first NCAA Tournament bid in 14 years, and ESPN has them comfortably in the field as a No. 7 seed in its latest bracket projection.

“This is their best team since we’ve been in the league,” said McGraw, whose Irish are in their seventh year of ACC membership. “I think Taja Cole makes them better.”

Cole, a grad-student transfer from Georgia, led the SEC and ranked fifth in the nation in assists last season with the Bulldogs at 7.0 to go with 11.1 points.

She’s at 9.8 points and 6.5 assists this season for a Tech club boasting both a bevy and variety of weapons.

“She’s a great player,” McGraw said. “She was an All-American coming out of high school and is just a really, really savvy point guard who is fast, strong, can score, can distribute. I think she makes them a whole lot better.”

Destinee’s destination

Destinee Walker, a grad transfer and ND’s top scorer at 14.5 points per game, will definitely be back next season, according to McGraw.

Walker, who transferred after last season from North Carolina, has expressed her desire on multiple occasions to play a second year with the Irish, but it wasn’t a certainty based on the fact that she’d already taken one redshirt for missing all of the 2017-18 season due to injury.

She’s been effectively seeking a second from the NCAA based on the fact that she also appeared in just four games last season due to injury.

“I’m very grateful,” Walker said Wednesday of apparently being awarded another year, though one ND official said it’s not official yet. “I love this program, I love this school and the feelings I’ve had here already.”

Walker said she plans to pursue a master’s of science in management from ND’s Mendoza College of Business.

“I’m really excited,” Walker said of how much the Irish could improve. “Next year will be another test of leadership, being one of the oldest on the team. We have some very tough freshmen coming in and I know Mikayla (Vaughn) will be full speed, and Anaya Peoples (currently out after shoulder surgery) will be back, so I’m excited for the team next year.”

Gilbert questionable

Katlyn Gilbert, Notre Dame’s No. 2 scorer at 13.8 points per game, was diagnosed with the flu

Wednesday afternoon, according to McGraw, and is “questionable” for Thursday’s game.

ndwbb12112019_27.jpgNotre Dame assistant coach Michaela Mabrey calls a play against DePaul on Dec. 11, 2019, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.
Virginia Tech’s Dara Mabrey (4) drives to the basket past Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj (13) on Feb. 13 in Blacksburg, Va.


WHO: Virginia Tech (19-6, 9-5 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (10-16, 5-9).

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

WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $25.


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


NOTING: Hokie leaders include junior guard Aisha Sheppard (15.4 points per game, 72-of-193 on 3-pointers for 37.3%), sophomore guard Dara Mabrey (12.7 ppg, 66-of-172 on 3s for 38.4%), 6-5 freshman center Elizabeth Kitley (11.6 ppg, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 55.1% from the field in 25.6 minutes), grad-student guard Taja Cole (9.8 ppg and 6.5 assists, which ranks fifth in the nation), junior forward Trinity Baptiste (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg in 23.8 mpg) and 6-2 grad-student forward Lydia Rivers (6.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg in 26.5 mpg). …Irish leaders include Destinee Walker (14.5 ppg), Katlyn Gilbert (13.5 ppg, 2.0 steals), Sam Brunelle (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Mikki Vaughn (10.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 58.8% from the field) and Marta Sniezek (5.2 assists and a program-record 31 drawn charges). … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 11-1, including seven straight victories since host Tech notched its lone win in February 2003. The Irish are 6-0 against the Hokies at Purcell Pavilion.

QUOTING: “We talked after the last game about how we have an opportunity in front of us with three home games to show our fans a little something more than we’ve shown them so far, and I’m hoping we can do that.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on the Irish getting ready to play three straight ACC home contests for the first time ever.