Notre Dame women rally around Dara Mabrey injury to put away Virginia

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Seeing Dara Mabrey go down was both agonizing and galvanizing for Notre Dame.

The Irish guard, termed “our heart and soul” by coach Niele Ivey, crumpled to the ground clutching her right knee — her anguished cries echoing throughout a suddenly hushed arena — just 1:59 into ND’s 76-54 women’s basketball victory over Virginia on Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.

“They’re still going through evaluations (that will continue Monday), but obviously, a little bit emotional for us,” Ivey said of whether Mabrey will be out for an extended period.

Mabrey had just made an open-court steal and was driving in for a layup when she crashed to the floor. The Cavaliers’ Yonta Vaughn was whistled for a foul on the play.

After Mabrey stayed down for several minutes, tended to by trainers, she was assisted from the arena area while putting no pressure on her right leg.

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Jan 22, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dara Mabrey (1) greets Virginia Cavaliers players after the game at the Purcell Pavilion. Mabrey was injured in the first half. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

“Obviously, it’s bittersweet,” Ivey said of the win, which lifted the No. 7-ranked Irish to 16-2 overall, 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “We have a great victory, but we lose our soldier in Dara.”

Sophomore guard Sonia Citron led all players with 20 points, including 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, and nine rebounds for ND.

Efficient and enforcive center Lauren Ebo added 15 points, six rebounds and a career-high four steals in 25 minutes off the bench. She was 6-of-8 from the field, 3-of-4 at the line and closed with a game-best plus-minus of 32.

Olivia Miles contributed 12 points and seven assists.

Camryn Taylor led shorthanded Virginia (14-6, 3-6) with 13 points, but was just 5-of-16 from the field.

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Jan 22, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Sonia Citron (11) shoots a three point basket in the second half against the Virginia Cavaliers at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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► ND’s unblinking response to Mabrey’s injury bordered on astonishing, and was perhaps rooted in a sort of foretelling team meeting earlier in the week.

Trailing 2-0 when she went down, the Irish erupted for an 18-2 spree, holding the Cavaliers scoreless for more than six minutes in that stretch.

“I played for her today, I think we all did,” Citron said of Mabrey after draining a career best in triples. “She was definitely in our mind the whole game. That’s one of my best friends, but all you can do is just play for her.”

With Mabrey having returned to the bench for the second half — her leg propped on a chair and teammates regularly coming down to check on her — the Irish reeled off yet another surge.

They scored on their first four possessions of the third quarter, capped by a Citron trey, to up a 35-23 halftime lead to 45-25.

The Cavs got no closer than 13 the rest of the way.

“We had a really good meeting a couple days ago to kind of just talk about unknown future adversity and how we’re gonna deal with it,” backup point guard Jenna Brown shared. “Obviously, it’s really hard to watch not only a teammate, but a sister, go down like that so early in the game, but I was very encouraged by my teammates and how mentally tough we all stayed in spite of that.”

“I was very proud of the way we responded,” Ivey concurred, “very proud of our grit, our poise. I felt like the first couple minutes, we really set the tone and looked really dominant. We had such great contributions from so many people with Dara going out. … Everybody collectively did a little bit more, which is what we needed today.”

► Making Mabrey’s exit feel surreal was that she’s proven as durable as any player in men’s or women’s college basketball over the last five years.

During her career — the first two seasons at Virginia Tech, the last three at Notre Dame — Mabrey’s teams have played 135 games. Mabrey’s not only played in all of them, but started all of them.

“The reason why she’s been so successful is because of her work ethic, her determination, her passion, her leadership,” Ivey said. “She’s always in the gym, she’s always doing the right recovery, always working out, always doing the right thing to get herself prepared, so that’s why she has so many career starts, because of the consistency and work she’s put in and the dedication to her craft.”

Mabrey entered the day averaging 9.9 points in addition to being second on the team in assists at 2.5. She’d been in a shooting slump lately, yet decisively remained ND’s leader in 3-pointers with 33.

Ironically, and clearly keyed by Citron, the Irish matched their most made 3s this season while going 8-for-20 from distance. Their percentage was their best in seven games.

“I hope so,” Citron said of whether she can remain a steady threat outside the arc if Mabrey misses time. “I’m gonna keep shooting with confidence and we’ll see.”

► While Mabrey wasn’t on the court long, another Irish fan favorite — Virginia’s Sam Brunelle — never took it at all.

The senior forward, who transferred from ND after last season, was serving a mandatory one-game suspension after being called for a controversial fighting foul late in the Cavs’ loss Thursday against Florida State.

“She’s a phenomenal kid. Obviously missed her out there,” Virginia coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said of Brunelle. “I was disappointed and hurt for her (not being able to play), but our team, we have the next-woman-up mentality. We’ve had to play with different players out this entire season.”

Brunelle, averaging 11.4 points and leading the Cavs in 3-point shooting at 33-of-81 for 41%, still made the trip and sat behind the Virginia bench.

She signed some autographs and posed for photos beforehand with some of ND’s game workers.

If Brunelle had played, she would’ve been the first ex-Irish individual to take the court against ND in over five years, with Michigan State’s Taya Reimer the last.

Who's hot

Clearly Citron. Her 3-point display came on the heels of going 1-of-8 from the field in ND’s 57-54 win Thursday at Clemson.

She threatened Alicia Ratay’s 22-year-old team record for most made 3s in a game without a miss at 7-for-7 before misfiring on her final try midway through the fourth quarter.

Who's not

Maddy Westbeld finished 1-of-7 from the field, but added an array of other contributions that included four rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots and two assists.

Up next

The Irish — tied with No. 13 Duke (17-2, 7-1) atop the ACC standings — remain home when they face third-place Florida State (18-4, 7-2) and freshman sensation Ta’Niya Latson in an 8 p.m. game Thursday.

The Seminoles have been perhaps the league’s biggest surprise team, and Latson’s already won the league’s Rookie of the Week honor a record-tying nine times.

No. 7 Notre Dame 76, Virginia 54VIRGINIA (14-6): Taylor 5-16 3-4 13, Dale 1-8 4-4 6, Miller 1-6 0-0 2, Smith 1-3 0-0 2, Vaughn 2-9 0-0 5, Clarkson 3-5 2-4 8, Lawson 0-0 0-0 0, Pauley 3-7 1-2 9, Valladay 3-10 3-4 9, Totals 19-64 13-18 54NOTRE DAME (16-2): Watson 3-4 2-4 8, Westbeld 1-7 1-2 3, Citron 7-11 0-0 20, Mabrey 0-1 0-0 0, Miles 4-7 3-4 12, Ebo 6-8 3-4 15, Bransford 3-7 4-4 10, Brown 1-2 0-0 2, Prosper 1-6 0-0 3, Marshall 1-1 1-2 3, Totals 27-54 14-20 76

Virgina9141912— 54
Notre Dame18172912— 76

3-Point Goals_Virginia 3-15 (Dale 0-5, Miller 0-1, Vaughn 1-4, Pauley 2-5), Notre Dame 8-20 (Westbeld 0-2, Citron 6-7, Mabrey 0-1, Miles 1-3, Bransford 0-1, Brown 0-1, Prosper 1-5). Assists_Virginia 8 (Vaughn 4), Notre Dame 18 (Miles 7). Fouled Out_Virginia Clarkson, Taylor. Rebounds_Virginia 42 (Clarkson 8, Dale 8), Notre Dame 37 (Citron 9). Total Fouls_Virginia 17, Notre Dame 17. Technical Fouls_None. A_6,442.