DENVER – The pressure was on in overtime during Sunday’s semifinal matchup against Connecticut. The Fighting Irish were in need of a steadying spark to help them silence the hungry Huskies. Who better than “the calm” to step up and be the game-changer during those final moments of madness.
Draining two critical 3-pointers in overtime, the Notre Dame squad sure was glad they got the ball in the hands of fifth-year senior Brittany Mallory.
Mallory is known for her poised, consistent and level-headed demeanor on the court. Often referred to as “mom” by her teammates, she picked up this role during her time sidelined due to a knee injury during her sophomore year.
“I think after my redshirt year [is when I started being known as The Calm],” Mallory said. “I was on the bench a lot obviously. I was getting to see the way coach saw things. And then when I started playing again I could understand why she would do certain things. I’ve never been one to get real emotional during the game. When we run a play I instantly pick it up and know where everyone should be. So it’s really easy for me to adapt to that and kind of take that role.”
Mallory doesn’t lead the team in scoring or dishing out assists, and she doesn’t have to. Her leadership on and off the court and service as team captain are defined by much more than a line on a stat sheet. Her teammates are simply drawn to her style of leadership and the way that she is able to connect with them.
“Brittany’s leadership and what she does on the floor by example I think is the biggest thing,” Notre Dame associate coach Carol Owens said. “I think she has a way of communicating with her teammates, and not being so harsh on them. But really being able to communicate and having them respect that and the way she plays. She’s always on the floor defending the best players. I think there’s a sense of respect that comes along with that.”
The coaching staff puts a lot of trust into Mallory, giving her the daunting task of defending and limiting the best players in the country. She’s proven to be up to the task with her toughness combined with her calmness, earning her that level of trust.
“We just feel like she’s proven that throughout the years through her play and how solid she’s been defensively,” Owens said. “She does a lot of the little things. She’s our glue player. When it comes down to last night in the overtime game, she hits two big-time 3s. She hadn’t been shooting them well, but when we needed it really bad she came up big for us.”
To know how critical a role Mallory has played this season for the Fighting Irish, it’s a bit scary to think where the team would be had she decided not to take advantage of her fifth year of eligibility.
After Notre Dame’s Final Four run fell just shy of a national championship title last season, Mallory considered moving on with her career, just not on the basketball court. Good thing for the Irish, she decided she’d rather not live with the regret of wondering what her senior season could have been.
“I thought she was essential for this team because of all of the intangible things she gives as well as being a best lock-down defender and 3-point specialist,” head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think just her attitude and personality really affects the whole team. I think she’s been a great leader for us. So I do. I think getting her to come back for this year — I don’t know that we’d be here without her.”
The calm, yet tough Mallory may sometimes be overshadowed by Skylar Diggins or Devereaux Peters. But when a player steps from behind the shadows like she did on Sunday, people start to take notice. They have to.
“I think [Sunday] you just got a glimpse of how she made her 3s and how she contributes and I think its been there all year,” sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa said. “No one’s just noticed it. We noticed it. She came up big for us last night and we know she’ll be there Tuesday.”
Mallory is a part of the backbone and the foundation for the Fighting Irish. And when her teammates see her drive, certainty and give-it-all attitude, it disseminates to the rest of the team, motivating and energizing them to play to her level and with her mentality.
“They just don’t quit,” McGraw said. “I think they just keep on going. They know they have the confidence, they have the maturity, the poise, and that calm, the calm that Brittany brings.”
That calm is just what the Fighting Irish will need on Tuesday. If the Lady Bears have anything to do with it, a storm is headed their way.