TAMPA, Fla. — Notre Dame’s fiery senior guard Marina Mabrey did not start off as she hoped in the opening half of the Irish’s Final Four semifinal matchup with Connecticut. She hit just one of her seven three-point attempts and turned the ball over twice in the first half. Despite the early struggles, Mabrey remained composed and was a key cog in Notre Dame’s comeback 81-76 victory over the Huskies.
“I feel like all shooters go through that,” Mabrey said after the game. “Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in. You can be shooting it the same way you’ve been shooting it the whole time. I just have to keep in my head that I’ve practiced and I deserve to be shooting the ball, so, just keeping that confidence the whole game and being able to put shots in when it counts.”
The senior finished the game with 12 points, close to her season average of 12.5, connecting on three triples on the night. Mabrey is widely known for her shooting ability from deep, becoming Notre Dame’s career leader in three-point makes after surpassing Alicia Ratay’s record of 262 on March 9, and currently sitting at 270 triples after the Final Four win.
“In the summertime, I usually shoot 500 shots a day on the gun just to keep my rhythm and form,” Mabrey said. “It really takes a lot of practice and discipline to shoot like that. I have had a lot of help with my teammates finding me in good spots.”
Mabrey not only produces for her team beyond the arc, she is also an adept playmaker for the Irish, setting up her teammates in ideal positions to score. She averaged 4.9 assists this season and exploded for a career high 12 assists in the Final Four win over UConn.
“I’ve worked on becoming a better passer since I moved to the point guard position,” Mabrey said. “I struggled with it a lot in the beginning … just being able to find my teammates now when my shots aren’t going in so I am still contributing in a different way. That also helps with my confidence.”
Notre Dame’s lineup is full of premier talent. The Irish starting five boasts three All-Americans in Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, and Jackie Young. But the Irish are much more than just that. Mabrey, in many aspects, is just as important to Notre Dame’s success in the national championship game as any other member of the roster.
One of those All-Americans, Shepard, knows how much of an impact Mabrey has on her team’s performance, “Marina has a huge impact on our offense,” the senior forward said. “She’s the one who gets us in the offense, brings the ball up the court. She does a great job of facilitating and getting the ball to the right people at the right time. It doesn’t go unnoticed for us.”
Despite her shooting and playmaking prowess, Mabrey’s most valuable skill may be her leadership and competitive edge.
“She is so feisty and so competitive, just never, ever quits,” said her head coach, Muffet McGraw. “She missed a lot of shots in the first half. She was fearless in the second half. Feisty on defense. She's the one in the huddle that's really getting everybody going.”
The senior knows she has a reputation for being the ultimate competitor, “It’s mostly my personality, but I know it’s motivating my teammates,” Mabrey said. “I need to be that presence — that fiery and competitive spirit — it’s not hard for me to do it. I like to be that voice for my teammates.”
Sunday will be Mabrey’s final chance to don the Irish uniform and close out an accomplished career. “Just being able to play all the way until the last possible day, being a senior and having it be my last go around,” Mabrey said. “I hope to win. I expect to win. It’s going to be a team effort. Hopefully we can go out with a win on the last night.”
Notre Dame will need all of Mabrey’s skills — shooting, playmaking and competitive nature — to knock off top-seeded Baylor on Sunday night. If she does, the Irish have a good chance of repeating as National Champions and giving the senior the sendoff she wants: a second national title.