Notre Dame women still playing the waiting game with Reimer

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The basketball is in Taya Reimer’s hands. Whether she continues to dribble it, pass it and shoot it for Notre Dame is up to her.

Reimer, who missed Thursday’s 78-63 loss at Miami, Fla., for what Notre Dame officials term as “personal reasons,” was not in attendance Saturday afternoon when head coach Muffet McGraw oversaw Reimer's teammates through their final practice before Sunday afternoon’s game with Atlantic Coast Conference rival Boston College.

Those teammates, McGraw and her staff all await Reimer’s return with open arms. But whether their hugs are returned, only Reimer knows.

The separation does have a deadline: Tuesday, the first day of classes for the second semester.

It is as simple as the 6-foot-3 sophomore forward from Fishers, Ind., walking through a door at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion and getting into uniform for the 1 p.m. game against the Eagles, and thus will end the soap opera engulfing the fourth-ranked Irish (14-2, 2-1 ACC) since Monday. That's when Reimer, who had started Notre Dame’s 15 previous games, startled everyone with the notion that she was considering leaving the team.

Only Reimer, if anyone, knows where all this is headed.

“She hasn’t decided yet, so we’re still in limbo,” McGraw said Saturday afternoon after practice. “We talked last night and again this morning, and she’s still undecided. We’re hoping to know. She did not come to practice today. We’re just going to continue to wait and see.”

McGraw indicated her communications with Reimer and her family have been "several” in number via the phone, including Saturday.

“Today was more texting,” added McGraw, who was the one who gave Reimer time to consider her options and is perplexed as anyone about her unhappiness. “I don’t have anything to elaborate on. She’s just thinking about some things on her own, and we hope she comes back.”

That “we” includes her teammates, who McGraw says hold no grudges toward Reimer.

“No, I would think the opposite — they want Taya to come back, too,” McGraw said.

Reimer was the No. 4 player in ESPN’s 2013 recruiting class. She chose Notre Dame over Connecticut, Duke, Georgia, Oklahoma, Stanford, Texas A&M and UCLA, among others abd had made statistical progress in her brief stay at Notre Dame.

As a freshman, she started in six of the 38 games the Irish played, including the 79-58 setback to UConn in the NCAA title game that ended a 37-1 campaign. She averaged 19.2 minutes, 7.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 50.2 percent and leading the team in blocked shots with 52.

This season, with 6-3 Brianna Turner as her frontcourt running mate, Reimer’s numbers in the 15 games she started were 21.7 minutes, 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 53.1 percent shooting and 14 blocks.

Without her, the Irish struggled Thursday in the first half against the Hurricanes. McGraw refused to say Reimer’s absence was a cause for Notre Dame trailing 40-20 at halftime.

"I don’t think it was a distraction so much as the foul trouble we were in,” McGraw said. “We certainly could have used her. At the end of the first half, Bri (Turner) was on the bench; Kathryn (Westbeld) was on the bench (and) Jewell (Loyd) was on the bench. So just in terms of that, it would have been nice to have her there.”

The Irish cut the deficit to six (55-49 on Turner’s three-point play) with just under 8:28 remaining in regulation but got no closer, despite some yeoman’s work from Loyd (27 points, seven rebounds, two steals), Turner (17 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks), Lindsay Allen (eight points, six assists) and Westbeld (five points, eight rebounds, four assists).

The loss ended some impressive streaks – 30 straight road victories, 38 straight victories in league play (both Big East and ACC), 25 straight conference victories and 61 victories against unranked teams.

Now the Irish will try to start some new ones against Boston College (8-7, 0-2 ACC). If the Irish are without Reimer, McGraw plans to start a four-guard attack of Loyd, Allen, Madison Cable and Michaela Mabrey with Turner.

“We’ve been playing four guards effectively, so obviously we can continue to play four guards throughout the season,” McGraw said.

Without Reimer, the Irish are thin in the frontcourt. Only Turner, still wearing a brace on the right shoulder she injured against Maryland on Dec. 3, Westbeld and senior Markisha Wright are healthy. Kristina Nelson (shoulder surgery) is in the midst of a redshirt season and fellow sophomore Diamond Thompson is out four to six weeks nursing an injured calf muscle.

Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Kettering, Ohio, and a McDonald’s All-American like Turner and Reimer, could be an answer when the Irish encounter more physical teams.

"From here on out, it looks like matchups,” McGraw said. “(Westbeld) threw some great passes to Bri, she had eight rebounds, got some good shots. It was really the first time she’d been in that situation, and she handled herself very well.”

The Irish coach knows, however, that her team is a better one with Taya Reimer on the floor. They all hope Taya Reimer feels the same way.

ND coach Muffet McGraw maintains the door is open for sophomore Taya Reimer (12) to return to the Irish women's basketball team. (AP Photo/ANDREW A. NELLES)

WHO: No. 4/4 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Boston College (8-7, 0-2 ACC)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), South Bend.

WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: WatchND/ESPN3. The game can be seen over the internet at WatchND (und.com) or WatchESPN (espn.go.com).

RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9)/WHPD-FM (92.1)

WORTH NOTING: Notre Dame leads the overall series, 14-5, and has won the last four games, including both games last season, 95-53 on Jan. 9, 2014 in South Bend and 82-61 Feb.13 in Chestnut Hill, Mass. ...The teams have two common foes this season: Holy Cross and Miami, Fla. The Irish beat Holy Cross 104-29 on Nov. 23 in South Bend, while the Eagles lost at Holy Cross, 80-64 on Dec. 10. Both teams lost to Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., Boston College 74-53 on Jan. 4 and Notre Dame 78-63 on Jan. 8. ... Boston College dropped an 80-77 decision to Georgia Tech last Thursday in Chestnut Hill. ... Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, meanwhile, has used seven different starters, but that could change if she elects to start freshman Kathryn Westbeld. ... The ACC's top two 3-point shooting teams are Notre Dame (38.1 percent) and Boston College (37.6). ...Junior All-American Jewell Loyd's next point will move her into solo 13th on the ND all-time scoring list. She is currently tied with Ashley Barlow (2006-10) with 1,492 and both trail Natalie Achonwa (2010-14), who scored 1,546. She needs eight points to reach 1,500 in her 90th career game, 10 more than what it took current Irish assistant Beth Morgan Cunningham to reach the mark. ... Loyd has scored in double figures in 59 consecutive games after scoring 27 against Miami. She scored eight points in Notre Dame's 83-59 Big East Tournament semifinal victory over Louisville on March 11, 2013 in Hartford, Conn.