April 3, 2014
By TOM COYNE, Associated Press
It's a big loss. But it's a big opportunity, too.
"This is something I've been looking forward to my whole life," Reimer said Thursday as the team prepared to leave for Nashville, Tenn., for the Final Four. "I'm really excited for the opportunity. Our goals are still the same; we still want to win a national championship. So that's what we're going to try to do."
If the Fighting Irish (36-0) are going to have any hope of staying unbeaten and winning their first title since 2001, the 6-3 forward likely will need to step up her game. McGraw has said it will take a team effort to replace the team's leading rebounder (7.7 a game) and third-leading scorer (14.9 points a game), and the task won't fall on any one player.
But at 6-3, Reimer not only is the same height as Achonwa, but also comes closest to matching her skills.
"She's very similar to Natalie in that she can put the ball on the floor, she can pass and she can shoot," McGraw said.
McGraw said the coaches have been telling Reimer they are looking for her to be herself, not to try to be Achonwa.
"She's got to come in and play her game. We're looking at defense and rebounding," McGraw said. "That's the key points for her."
As a high school senior, Reimer won the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year award and she also played on a gold-medal U.S. under-17 world championship team. Reimer concedes she will be a bit nervous at the start of the game against Maryland (28-6) on Sunday.
"But once the ball goes up and we get playing, I'll definitely be ready," she said.
McGraw said the Irish have confidence in Reimer, who had her most productive game of the season in November when she scored 19 points against Michigan State.
The Irish probably won't have a lot of trouble making up for Achonwa's offense. The Irish are second in the nation in scoring at 86.8 points a game, lead the nation in field-goal percentage at 51.0 percent and 3-point shooting at 40.8 percent, and are second in the nation in assists at 20.4 a game.
Where they will miss her most is on the defensive end and as a vocal leader. The Irish likely will seek more out of senior 6-1 forward Ariel Braker on the defensive end.
Braker had a solid game against Baylor on Monday, going 4 for 4 from the floor, making both free throw attempts and finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and four steals.
"She's kind of the unsung hero of our team," McGraw said. "She's kind of a blue-collar worker."
McGraw said the Irish aren't feeling sorry for themselves about the injury to Achonwa: "There were no tears. There's no mourning. We are ready to move on and Natalie is going to be on the sideline doing everything she can do to help us win."
Achonwa said she's looking forward to cheering for her teammates.
"I believe in them more than they believe in themselves," Achonwa said. "I think I'm really excited to see what they can do."
McGraw sent a tweet out Wednesday about Achonwa, known by her teammates as Ace, that read: "It's not about the cards you're dealt but how you play the hand. Just cause we don't have an ace up our sleeve doesn't mean we're gonna fold."
McGraw said she likes that some people are counting Notre Dame out and is making sure the Irish are aware of it.
"I think that's a good thing for us. I want them to hear that all day long because it just puts a big chip on our shoulder," she said.