March 28, 2018
By John Heisler
They don’t talk much about Marina Mabrey‘s 14.8-point scoring average, third-best on this University of Notre Dame women’s basketball squad.
They don’t mention she leads the Irish in assists and steals.
They don’t notice she tops the team in free-throw shooting percentage (.852).
They sometimes forget she leads Notre Dame’s three-point shooting column with 83 made, to go with a .465 success rate.
They miss the fact she nearly paces the Irish in minutes played at 33.9 per game (Arike Ogunbowale has played 1,221 minutes; Mabrey has played 1,219).
They generally give her credit for taking on most of the point guard responsibilities in early January after both Lili Thompson and Mychal Johnson went down with knee injuries.
They understand the all-purpose role she has been asked to play in helping lead this Notre Dame team to a number-one NCAA regional seed and now the 2018 NCAA Final Four.
But any opposing players or coach-not to mention the Irish players and coaches themselves-would do well never to underestimate how badly Mabrey wants to win.
This is a New Jersey-tough, 5-11 junior guard whose edge has been honed dating back years to countless one-on-one driveway battles (and that word probably can’t be overemphasized) against her own brothers and sisters.
Many of those came against sister Michaela, who played for Notre Dame (and was a two-time captain) from 2012-2016, and sister Dara who is headed to Virginia Tech to play beginning in 2018-19.
That driveway in Belmar, New Jersey, is of the one-car variety, so quarters are tight when any member of the Mabrey clan faces off against another. Marina has an older brother Roy and older sister Michaela as well as a younger brother Ryan and younger sister Dara. Roy played basketball at St. Anselm, while Ryan is a current eighth-grader. Michaela, Marina and Dara all helped Manasquan High School to New Jersey state titles.
The action is intense, there may be elbows and basketballs thrown and words exchanged. The physical and emotional nature of those confrontations often meant tempers flared and one sister or brother (or more) ended up on the concrete-and Notre Dame’s program has been the beneficiary of all that.
Irish associate coach Beth Cunningham doesn’t envy any Notre Dame opponent who faces off against Mabrey:
“That’s a kid I wouldn’t want to play against because of the way she wills her team to win,” she says.
“She absolutely has done that with our team in games this year. That’s the biggest thing with her–that hate-to-lose mentality. She’s as competitive as anyone you’re going to find.”
Adds Irish associate head coach Carol Owens, “That’s the thing that separates her–that competitiveness. She never backs down from a challenge.”
Mabrey came into the year expecting to be a shooter first while also spelling Thompson and Johnson at the point when required. The extended Irish injury bug forced her into an expanded ball-handling role.
“She was asked to play the point position, and she has really embraced that bigger role,” says Owens.
“She is very confident at this point compared to maybe where she was in January. She has embraced it head-on. She has watched a lot of film with Coach McGraw. I commend her for the way she has gone about it all.”
Mabrey has built herself into an All-Atlantic Coast Conference player in part by refusing to leave the gym.
Says Owens, “She always wants to be better. She’s always in the gym.”
Adds Cunningham, “She gets her confidence from the countless hours she spends in the gym.
“She won’t take a day off. You have to tell her, ‘Don’t do anything today. Take it easy.’ It’s just that fire she has.”
Cunningham is convinced Mabrey’s training has prepared her well for the bright lights of the Final Four she will see for the first time this weekend.
“I don’t care how well or how poorly she is playing, she has her best games on the biggest stages,” says Cunningham. “Her freshman year when we went on the road to UConn she singlehandedly kept us in that game against the number-one team in the country. She had 21 points in the first half, and they just had to faceguard her after that and not let her get the ball.”
Mabrey finished with a season-high 23 points in that contest, hitting 10 of her 13 shots in a 91-81 Connecticut victory, Notre Dame’s lone regular-season loss.
“Of all the things she does, what I value most is her willingness to refuse to lose,” says Cunningham. “She is the ultimate competitor. She will do anything not to lose–she hates it.
“She has done so many different things for us in so many different areas. But ultimately it’s her competitiveness. That’s why she finds so many different ways to compete for us.”
Adds Owens, “Not backing down from a challenge is what has made her a really good player and why she has improved. She’s been kind of our unsung hero this year.
“I think she’s the most competitive of our group–the toughest and the most competitive.”
With the Irish playing with a short bench all year thanks to a series of injuries that began in the preseason when All-American Brianna Turner was ruled out, Mabrey has stepped up in a big way in a variety of ways.
When Notre Dame needs her to score, she’s proved capable of doing that in fine fashion-including 27 points against Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals and 23 against Cal State Northridge in the first round of the NCAA Championship. She connected on seven three-pointers (on 11 attempts) Saturday against Texas A&M on her way to 25 points in the Spokane Regional semifinal. The Irish single-game record for threes is eight by Sheila McMillen in 1998.
If a pinpoint pass needs to be made or a pesky defensive effort is required, Mabrey generally has been up to the task. Three times she had eight assists in a game in 2017-18. She has only 11 turnovers in her last seven games combined (four turnovers in three ACC Tournament games and seven in four NCAA Championship games).
They sometimes forget that Mabrey is capable of filling in a stat column nearly anywhere it’s required.
That’s why all those leftover driveway bumps and bruises suggest they’ve been worth it–as long as they help her find a way to win.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletic scene since 1978.