Jan. 23, 2015
Georgia Tech narrowed down an 18-point first-half lead by the University of Notre Dame women's basketball to seven points early in the second half during Thursday night's Atlantic Coast Conference game.
A few minutes later, another Mabrey steal and fast-break assist to Lindsay Allen pushed the Notre Dame lead to 14 points at 59-45.
Georgia Tech fought back again, closing to an eight-point deficit at 59-51.
That's when the Yellow Jackets' momentum hit a roadblock.
Mabrey hit a three-pointer at the 12:32 mark of the second half to give Notre Dame a 64-51 lead.
Georgia Tech hit a three, but Mabrey counter-punched with another three, giving Notre Dame a 67-54 lead with 11:53 left in the second half.
It was too much Mabrey for Georgia Tech, which called a timeout.
As soon as the referee blew the whistle to give the Yellow Jackets a break from the 5-foot-10-inch gritty guard from Belmar, New Jersey, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw sprinted out to meet Mabrey at midcourt and give her a hug.
"I didn't have a great first half offensively or defensively, and Coach McGraw really got on me at halftime to step up in every way," said Mabrey, who finished with eight points, four assists and two steals in Notre Dame's 89-76 victory. "I think she was just really happy. My energy at the start of the second half was a lot better. I got some steals, some baskets and some assists. When I hit that three, she was just really excited."
McGraw said Mabrey's impact was critical against a talented Georgia Tech team.
"It was huge for me, because I felt like she came out in the second half with a different attitude defensively," McGraw said. "I felt like she had more intensity defensively. I was on her pretty hard at halftime. I wanted to show her how much I appreciated what she was doing on offense. That three was huge. That got us going. It got some momentum going for us. That's what she can do. It's always great. It's fun for me to watch her make threes."
Fighting Irish associate coach Beth Cunningham said Mabrey has been an impact player for the Irish in her career.
"(Mabrey) always hits some big shots," Cunningham said. "She plays within the flow of the game. (Against Georgia Tech), she hit some momentum-changers, and it was at a point where we really needed it."
Mabrey took McGraw's halftime words and transformed them into impact plays. That comes from a maturity and mental toughness she forged during her childhood basketball days in New Jersey.
"I've always been the type growing up to take criticism on the court and not let it get personal at all," Mabrey said. "I take it, listen to it and move on. I never get emotional about it. I always take it as if Coach wants me to get better. I take it in a positive way. I listen to what she has to say, and try to fix what I need to fix."
Maturity and mental toughness have served Mabrey well as she has been thrust into a leadership role. Mabrey has started all 20 games for the 18-2 Irish. She averages 7.2 points a game and leads the Irish with 42 three-pointers.
"I talked to Coach McGraw about leadership in the beginning of the season," Mabrey said. "I think my personality and the way I preach to my teammates make it seem like I'm not yelling at them. I'm just trying to bring out the best in them by telling them what to do, very firmly, just trying to help them reach their highest potential. People say I'm a great communicator on our team. I think I just learned through my family and AAU. I've always been the youngest, and I've always learned to communicate as well as I can.
"I completely embrace the challenge of being a leader," Mabrey continued. "I would do whatever our team needs me to do in order to win. I knew, coming into the season, I needed to be a voice on the team. Jewell, Lindsay, myself--we were among the people who needed to be the voices on the team. I try in any way to reach people in the way they need to be reached, because some people don't take criticism. Some people are sensitive. You have to learn how to communicate first and then to make it as effective as possible."
McGraw said Mabrey has stepped up for the Irish.
"Michaela has done a really good job of leading," McGraw said. "She's the most vocal player on the team, and she's a really good communicator. She's really smart. I think her challenge is understanding that the rest of the team isn't always on the right page. She expects a lot from them. I think the thing she's learned is they really don't know, and so just because they should know doesn't mean they do know. I think that's been a little harder for her."
Cunningham thinks Mabrey is poised to be a critical part of Notre Dame's success in the second half of the season.
"I thought she played really well against Tennessee (an 88-77 Irish victory Monday), and that probably boosted her confidence," Cunningham said. "She shot the ball really well and got us off to a great start. Hopefully, she continues building on that. I think you saw it in the second half (against Georgia Tech). She's playing confident, taking her shot and knocking her shot down. She's been a little up and down this year, but she's continued to battle. As young as we are, sometimes she can give you that upperclassman presence, that stability. That's what we really count on her for. I thought she really did that in the second half."
Although Mabrey has carved out a remarkable legacy as a sharpshooter, Cunningham said the Irish also see Mabrey as an impact player on defense.
"We're always preaching to continue to focus on defense and helping us rebound, to put yourself in a position to help us on both ends of the floor," Cunningham said. "It's always easier when you're shooting the ball well. You seem to play the other end of the floor better. One of the things we've been focusing on with her is regardless of how you're shooting the ball, you've got to help us defensively and do your job rebounding. Even if you don't get the rebound, you have to keep somebody off the boards."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent