Former McDonogh star Mallory key to Notre Dame's Final Four run

Through two knee surgeries, Mallory has emerged as 'glue' for gifted Fighting Irish team

April 03, 2011|By Jon Meoli, The Baltimore Sun

As Bob Mallory watched his daughter, former McDonogh star Brittany Mallory, cut down the nets after Notre Dame's Dayton Regional final win over top-seeded Tennessee, he had to make a quick phone call.

He called Brittany's high school coach, Tom Gizzi, to share with him a moment that a pair of ACL injuries could have made impossible. The first, in her junior year at McDonogh, could have prevented her from even going to Notre Dame. The other, during her second season in South Bend, could have derailed a promising collegiate career.

But there she was, standing high above the court celebrating a trip to the Final Four that wouldn't have happened without her.

"What a feeling," Bob Mallory said. "Seeing her up on that ladder is something we'll never forget. You feel like you're on top of the world."

Gizzi, now an assistant coach at Loyola University, saw the moment as a crowning achievement in an outstanding career.

"From the moment I met her in the assistant headmaster's office as a rising ninth grader until that phone call, it's just been a tremendous success story," Gizzi said.

Of course, there's one more rung on that ladder to go.

After two seasons in a limited role and one in the training room, the senior guard has started all but four games for an Irish team that faces top-ranked Connecticut in the national semifinal Sunday in Indianapolis.

Mallory, who Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw calls the team's "glue," is averaging 7.1 points in 27 minutes per game for the 30-7 Irish.

"I feel like I need her on the court all the time," McGraw said. "She's one of our most important players. She keeps us grounded, and she's always going to make that big play. What she does is invaluable."

Notre Dame's tournament success coincided with two of Mallory's best games this season. She made six three-pointers and scored a team-high 20 points in its Sweet 16 win over Oklahoma, and followed it up with 10 points in Monday's win over Tennessee.

But if Notre Dame's season is to continue past Sunday, it will be because of Mallory's defense. Mallory, the team's best perimeter defender, will be tasked with guarding UConn's four-time All-American guard Maya Moore.

Moore's Huskies defeated Notre Dame three times this season and no current Irish player has ever beaten Connecticut, but Mallory said they believe they can win.

"We really feel like we can get to the championship and win," she said. "We're excited to have made it this far, but it's not enough."

That elusive victory over UConn would be a fitting addition to Notre Dame's tournament resume. Oklahoma ended Notre Dame's season in last year's Sweet 16, and the win over Tennessee was the program's first in 21 tries.

Mallory played just six minutes in last year's season-ending loss to Oklahoma, and Gizzi said it's been a process for his former star to grow into her new role. Being a bench player wasn't something Mallory, who scored 1,825 points at McDonogh, was used to, but she earned a starting spot and was unanimously chosen as team captain.

"Everything at McDonogh was designed around her," Gizzi said. "But at Notre Dame, she's the one setting players up. She's the one that has to get the assist and have the mentality of just doing what it takes to win. She's successfully made that transition."

Without having made that transition, there's no telling how far Notre Dame would have gone this season. Even McGraw is surprised at their success this year.

"I felt like we'd be better next year," she said. "We're ahead of schedule, and Brittany's a huge part of that."

Whether Mallory will be around next season is a different story. Because of her injury sophomore year, Mallory has the option of returning for a fifth season. She hasn't decided yet, meaning her friends and family members in Indianapolis don't know if they'll be watching her last collegiate games.

Her father said he'd let her make her own decision, but McGraw is taking matters into her own hands.

"I mention it every time I see her parents," she said. "I'm begging her to come back."

xcxjmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonmeoli

An earlier version of this article gave the wrong first name for Bob Mallory. The Sun regrets the error.

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