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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Reimer stepping in for injured Achonwa

When Natalie Achonwa crashed to ground in incredible pain in the Elite Eight game against Baylor, all eyes turned to highly-touted freshman Taya Reimer even before Achonwa was officially ruled out of the Final Four with a torn ACL.

Reimer has started four games during her freshman season but none since a Jan. 16 game at Pittsburgh. Now she is likely to be in the starting lineup when Notre Dame faces Maryland in tomorrow's national semifinal.

"I am ready to play and I know what I have to do," said Reimer, who is averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game this season. "Ever since I was little and I was watching the Final Four, it is all I ever dreamed about doing and play in these big games. Ever since I got here on Thursday, I have been ready to play.

"I have talked to the coaches and talked about 'this is what I can do to fill that void' just focusing on rebounding and defense. I think we are all prepared to go out there and get these wins and do what we need to do."

It helps Reimer that Achonwa is handling the premature end to what has been a brilliant collegiate career with such dignity.

"I don't feel sorry for myself and nobody else should feel sorry for me," Achonwa said. "I am at a Final Four, the fourth one I've been to and I am blessed and grateful to have to opportunity to be here."

Achonwa has had knee injuries before and she knew this one was significantly more serious, she held out hope that she would get some good news when the medical staff got to look at her knee. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

"I don't think I realized it right away," Achonwa said. "I think I was waiting to hear it to see if it was for sure so there was a little bit of shock status. I don't think it has really set in and I don't think it is going to and I am just trying to live in the moment. Coaches and I we talked before we addressed the team and we are on the same page that we are not focused on this. I tore my ACL and I can't do anything about that - control the controllables is what I always say."

Achonwa said a date for surgery hasn't been decided upon and she will start focusing on that when the season is over.

Notre Dame's dealing with the loss of Achonwa, who is averaging 20.5 points and 9.8 rebounds in the NCAA tournament, is made easier with the way she has dealt with the situation.

"She has really exhibited what a true leader is all about it," Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens said. "You see it on the court and that is what you expect but when you hit adversity and you can still stand up and lead the team from the sideline is amazing for her and it just speaks about her character as a person."

So, is Reimer ready to help fill the void left by Achonwa's absence?

"She feels ready and the good thing is she had experience throughout the season but starting will be a little different for those first couple of minutes just because the anxiety but at the beginning of the year when Natalie wasn't (playing) and she was coming off a knee injury," Owens said, "Taya started and did pretty well. I like her growth over the course of the year. People haven't seen that statistically but we have seen it in a lot of areas, understanding the pace and physicality of the game and just the defensive aspect of it, understanding that part and getting comfortable with the offense. I think she is progressing in those areas and we told her just to enjoy it. There is not a huge amount of pressure on her to score, she needs to focus on what she can control rebounding, playing defense and executing the offense."

Reimer believes she is ready for the challenge and hopes she can bring some of what Achonwa did to the Fighting Irish.

"I think honestly we have very similar skill sets," Reimer said. "She is very physical down low and can take it off the dribble but those are things I can also do. The biggest thing for me is my mindset, having confidence and being assertive on the court. It is just confidence and watching how hard she plays so that is something I am definitely taking to heart."

One subject that Reimer isn't focusing on was the time when she was being pursued in the recruiting process by UConn.

"I enjoyed the entire recruiting process, it was great getting to know coaches but I definitely feel like I made the right choice in coming to Notre Dame," Reimer said.


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