Now is the time for Reimer to step up for Notre Dame women


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Human nature can get in the way of even the best game plan.

Even though she came in as the top high school girls basketball player in the country, Taya Reimer’s transition to the college game has been anything but seamless.

In the space of one unfortunate tumble, Notre Dame’s 6-foot-3 freshman post has experienced a significant change in her role.

When senior Natalie Achonwa went down with a serious knee injury against Baylor on Monday, the Hamilton Southeastern High (near Indianapolis) grad went from a randomly used sub to a key player charged with trying to corral Maryland’s 6-2 first-team All-American Alyssa Thomas in Sunday night’s Final Four semifinal.

No big deal, right?

Heading into the Baylor game, Reimer admitted she was a bit intimidated — offensively, at least — with the three veterans — Achonwa, Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd — around her. She said, when she had the ball, she would second-guess herself and “not want to take any shots away” from them.

The situation has changed. It’s time for Reimer — named by coach Muffet McGraw as the starter in place of Achonwa — to step up her production (7.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 18.7 minutes).

Beyond the stats, foul trouble has been a constant. Reimer has scored in double figures 10 times this season, but it’s been 10 games since the last one (10 points in a blowout of Wake Forest). She has had 19 points and 13 rebounds in Notre Dame’s four NCAA Tournament games.

Is she ready? Is her plate big enough for the added responsibilities and expectations?

How has McGraw tried to convince Reimer of the new assignment?

“The same way we convinced (freshman point guard) Lindsay (Allen) to be Lindsay and not Skylar (Diggins),” McGraw said. “(Reimer) has to come in and play her game. We’re looking at defense and rebounding. That’s the key points for her. If we can do that, we’ll find the scoring somewhere else.”

“I sat down with coach McGraw and (assistant) coach (Carol) Owens, we kind of talked about (trying to be Taya and not Achonwa),” Reimer said. “We looked at where I could get more shots in the offense; what I need to be doing defensively and rebounding.

“They said I’m more than capable of filling that role and doing everything we need. Make sure I’m focusing on defense and rebounding and not trying to do too much.”

“This adjustment for her will be more mental than physical,” said Chris Huppenthal, Reimer’s high school coach. “‘Your job is not to be the player that was hurt. Your job is to do what you’re capable of doing.’

“Having McBride and Loyd around her helps take off a lot of pressure.

“Playing within herself is important. She’s more defensive-minded now. In high school, she was more offensive-minded. What they need to do now is to cultivate her into a defensive presence. Her scoring will pick up as she gets older.”

Achonwa said she has had her own sit-down with Reimer.

“‘Do what we all know you can do,’” was Achonwa’s message to Reimer. “She would get buckets on me in practice; she can defend; she’s athletic. She came to Notre Dame for a reason. I was just reminding her that; nothing new. She doesn’t have to do anything new, just be Taya Reimer.”

“In order for her to step up, Taya will have to do the intangibles: Get the ball to the people who have done the scoring all season; play defense; rebound,” said Huppenthal. “At that level, that’s the way you keep yourself in the game.

“What Taya needs to do is commit to being great on defense and do an outstanding job rebounding. Those are things well within her game.”

Huppenthal, whose brother Joe is the head boys basketball coach at Clay High, has watched Reimer’s development this season closely. A long-range shooter and scorer since she was a freshman starter at Hamilton Southeastern, her game has been focused for the short-term.

“Muffet has taken the 3-point line away from Taya,” Huppenthal said. “That’s been a good thing for her.

“Just watching her this season, she seems to have gained confidence around the basket. They don’t need her to score from (beyond the 3-point line). (McGraw has) had (Reimer) play where she can be a success. That’s a confidence thing.”

Confidence might be more important than anything else Sunday night.

It can make a game plan work really well.

Al Lesar: 574-235-6318

Notre Dame's Taya Reimer puts up a shot between Oklahoma State's Katelyn Loecker, left, and Brittney Martin during their regional semifinal game at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)