Had one more shot gone differently, Marina Mabrey’s name would have been etched into basketball lore forever. Instead, her heroic efforts become just a footnote.
Holding a double-digit lead for nearly the entire third quarter, many wondered aloud if Baylor was going to have the game wrapped up before the media timeout in the fourth. Then, the unthinkable happens: Lauren Cox goes down.
A freak accident if there ever was on, Cox’s teammate Kalani Brown landed on Cox’s leg, sending the junior post player to the ground and a hush over the crowd. Once she was helped off the floor, Notre Dame began to claw back in her absence.
“You hate to see a great player like that go down and I would never wish that on anyone,” said Mabrey following the game, sitting in front of her locker. She was composed, pausing before each answer, her teary eyes reflecting the emotion of the moment. “I really hope it’s nothing serious. But as we were talking, we said, ‘hey, we can’t let them use this as motivation. Everyone was chanting ‘Baylor, Baylor, Baylor’. I felt like we responded really well.”
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The Irish certainly did, and much of it was from her own hand. Trailing by 11 entering the fourth quarter, Mabrey was fouled on a three-point shot and knocked down all of her free throws. From there, the comeback was on.
After baskets from Arike Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard, Mabrey knocked in a three to cut the lead to four with 7:23 on the clock. Another three on the next possession cut it three, and yet another at 5:18 drew the Irish even.
Finally, with 3:18 on the clock, Notre Dame took the lead on a made Ogunbowale free throw.
“Coming back, it took so much out of us. They were relentless,” Mabrey said. “They were not letting us take it back from them. They were making play after play after play for so long. I feel like once we got the lead, maybe we relaxed? I don’t know.”
The lead swung back and forth over the final moments of the game, and somewhat appropriately, was won on a layup by Baylor guard Chloe Jackson who exploded for 26 points in the biggest game of her career. Perhaps even adding to the shock of Jackson’s offensive surge was the fact that two nights ago against Oregon, she stumbled her way to a 3-of-11 shooting night, not scoring until late in the third quarter.
“[Jackson] was on fire,” Mabrey said. “Great players come up big in great moments, and she came up on top this time. I don’t think we respected her at first and we paid for it. She hit her shots. Credit to her.”
Mabrey hit plenty herself, finishing the game with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 shooting from deep. Despite her best efforts, the comeback couldn’t be completed, something she attributed to the large deficit they found themselves in early.
“I felt like we were going to win,” Mabrey said. “Did we deserve to win? I don’t know. When you play with fire like that at the beginning and have to use so much energy to come back… did we have anything left in the tank to get that stop? I don’t know. But we didn’t get the stop. We said earlier that it was going to come down to whoever got the stop. They didn’t really get it, they got lucky Arike missed the free throw, but they played a great game.”
As for feeling sorry for herself, Mabrey knows the opportunity was there and the Irish just didn’t take it.
“I would have liked to have won the game, “she said. “I would have liked Arike to have made the free throw. I would have liked for us to make one more layup. But against a Baylor team like this, you’re not guaranteed to come out on top on a comeback, and credit to them, they held on.”
Maybe Notre Dame would have won had it hit one more layup. Maybe they find a way to get it done in overtime if that first Ogunbowale free throw connects. And maybe if the Irish come out on top, we’d be talking about the Mabrey fueled comeback for years to come. But, they didn’t, and instead we are left to think about what might have been.
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