Taya Reimer and Notre Dame find some nasty against Tennessee

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Twenty minutes of nasty is a step in the right direction.

See what happens when the Notre Dame women’s basketball team develops an attitude at halftime?

The second half of the “Big Monday” 88-77 Irish victory over Tennessee could prove to be a turning point in Notre Dame’s season. Blank expressions turned to scowls. Elbows were sharpened. When Vols were supposed to be blocked out, they stayed blocked out.

Jewell Loyd was nothing shy of amazing (18 points on 8-of-11 shooting) in the first half, and yet, Notre Dame led by just three.

“Sometimes it’s hard to stay in the offense because (Loyd is) so good,” said sophomore post Taya Reimer. “She’s so much fun to watch. We’re trying to watch her too. We try to stay in it and hit the (offensive) boards.”

Notre Dame’s rebounding ineptitude, especially on the offensive glass (the Vols had a 10-3 edge early), was just another, “Uh oh, here we go again” situation. The Irish have been able to survive several rebounding lapses this season.

The killer instinct that Natalie Achonwa brought to the Irish last year has yet to be replaced.

What went on in that halftime locker room? How can Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw bottle the words that generated the attitude adjustment?

“It’s businesslike,” Reimer said of McGraw’s message at intermission. “Sometimes she yells, but it’s never really emotional. She’s just telling us what we know we need to do. She’s just telling us, in this game, we’ve got to rebound; we have to rotate (on defense) inside, and shut them down inside. That was the key to the game.

“All of us posts took that to heart; especially me, just trying to get back in a rhythm.”

“We talked quite a bit about rebounding, and how we were double-teaming and giving them some easy shots,” McGraw said. “We talked about our rotation. We played a little more zone in the second half.

“We got the transition game going, which also helped a little bit.”

Notre Dame went from trailing the rebounding battle, 18-13, at the break, to winning the war, 36-34.

Add senior scrapper Madison Cable (six points and three rebounds) to the list of those who came out with a passion to improve.

At least in the small sample size of Monday’s second half, big-picture progress is being made.

Reimer, who had just three rebounds in the first half, finished with 10, to go along with nine points.

“Taya really stepped up, that was the key,” said McGraw. “We needed a presence inside and tonight it was Taya. That’s the great thing about this team. It’s not a one-man team or a two-man team. We’ve got a lot of great players.”

Last Thursday it was freshman phenom Brianna Turner who dusted the glass for 18 boards. Against the Vols, she had just three rebounds. Another freshman post, Kathryn Westbeld, had two.

The circumstances called for a veteran presence, though some forget the 6-foot-3 Reimer is only in her second season.

“I see my biggest progress as my toughness in the post,” said Reimer, who came into the game averaging 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. “We’re so young in the post, along with Kathryn and Brianna.

“I’m trying to be that rock for the posts; that anchor; get that toughness. Be dependable.

“All of us have had to grow up really quickly, just doing what we need to do.”

The rock crumbled momentarily earlier this month. She asked McGraw for some time away and was granted the leave. Reimer missed the Irish loss at Miami.

After her return to the starting lineup Monday, Reimer didn’t elaborate on her situation.

“I love this team,” was Reimer’s response. “We all get along so well.”

By now, the details don’t mean much. They will likely stay hidden behind the locker room door. Water under the bridge.

What does matter is the way she responds.

Monday it was with passion and intensity, and a chip on her shoulder.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an anger, it’s more of a competitive spirit,” Reimer said. “After the first half, when we were outrebounded, we had to out-work their bigs; we had to have the mentality they’re not better than us.”

Paid off this time. The next challenge is to turn that attitude into an identity.

Nasty can be as significant as an effective transition game or a stout defense.

And the best part, it never goes in a slump.

Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer (12) drives against Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick (11) Monday, January 19, 2015, during the Tennessee-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ