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ND Women’s Basketball: Team rolls in season opener

Mary Green | Sunday, November 10, 2013

Michaela Mabrey was the first player off the bench for No. 6 Notre Dame and came up big as the Irish cruised to a 99-50 win over UNC Wilmington in Sunday’s season opener.
The sophomore guard had a career-high 19 points and doled out six assists, spending much of her team-high 27 minutes on the court at point guard for the Irish (1-0).
“It’s huge for us, especially right now, when we’re still searching for the next sub coming off the bench,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “So I’ve really been happy with Michaela all year. She came back in great shape, she’s playing well, she’s shooting well. We want her to keep shooting threes. She’s talking more, she’s communicating more and she’s running the team as much as she can when she doesn’t have the ball.”
Mabrey also showed her skills on the defensive side of the ball, pestering Seahawks junior guard Kelva Atkins throughout the game, and limiting Atkins to six of 15 shooting on the night and two of eight shooting behind the arc.
“Defensive-wise, I tried to pressure the ball as much as I could, and I got a few steals and little tips,” Mabrey said. “That’s what I’m really trying to work on, so I thought that aspect I got better at today.”
Notre Dame performed well as a team defensively and used the matchup with UNC Wilmington (0-1) to work out the early-season kinks in its man-to-man defense, 2-3 zone and full-court press while claiming its 19th-consecutive season-opening victory.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd also stood out on both sides of the ball, finishing with her second career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Loyd added a career-high three blocks and a pair of assists to round out her afternoon.
“Defensively, she was our stopper last year, and now she’s really challenging people. She did a good job without fouling, and I thought [she] was in the right spots most of the game. I was pleased with her offense, but defensively, I thought she played a really complete game.”
Notre Dame held UNC Wilmington scoreless for several minutes at a time on multiple occasions, with the longest stretch coming in the second half for more than five minutes. The Irish did not allow the Seahawks to reach double digits in points until past the 10-minute mark in the first half.
Offensively, the squad shot 62.9 percent from the field, its best mark since Jan. 17, 2012, against Pittsburgh.
Freshman forward Taya Reimer took charge on the glass, snatching 12 of the team’s 54 rebounds. Nine of Reimer’s boards came in the first half after she earned a starting spot with senior forward Natalie Achonwa on the bench, out for six weeks after a knee scope.
“[It was] a great start for a freshman,” McGraw said. “We were anxious to get Natalie Achonwa back in the lineup, but until then, I think Taya’s doing a fabulous job inside.”
Fresh off the victory, the Irish have a quick turnaround and will face No. 20 Michigan State on Monday.
The Spartans (0-0) head into the matchup coming off lopsided exhibition wins over Ferris State and Grand Valley State. Freshman guard Tori Jankoska led the team with 27 points off the bench against Ferris State, and junior forward Becca Mills scored 18 points with five rebounds and two blocks against Grand Valley State.
“What a great team,” McGraw said of Michigan State. “They are so talented. This is maybe their best team ever. They’ve got great athletic wings. They’re big at every position. Their point guard [junior Kiana Johnson] is experienced and savvy. They’ve got a terrific game inside, and Becca Mills is playing well.
“They’re deep and really, really long. They can really guard, and I think that’s something they take a lot of pride in. And they can score, too, so I think they’re going to be a formidable opponent for us.”
McGraw said her team needs to make some adjustments down low and on defensive to prepare for the contest with the Spartans, a much larger and longer team than UNC-Wilmington.
“I was disappointed early on that we didn’t score on the block more, even with the guards [against the Seahawks],” McGraw said. “I just thought we could have gone inside a lot more.
“I saw a lot of problems [on defense against UNC-Wilmington], so that’s good, so we can fix those. I don’t know that we’ll fix them all [in Sunday’s practice], but we have some defensive weaknesses that we really need to address, and hopefully we’ll be able to fix those getting on into December and certainly by the ACC season.”
Notre Dame takes on Michigan State tonight at 7 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion.
Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu