NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the minutes after Notre Dame beat Baylor on Monday to claim a spot in its fourth consecutive Final Four, Taya Reimer sat undisturbed in the lounge near the Irish locker room in South Bend. It's an area where select players are corralled for interviews, and an official told the freshman she needed to wait there.
Yet in the afterglow of a win in which Jewell Loyd starred and Kayla McBride persevered, and amid the uncertainty of what was then still an undiagnosed knee injury for Natalie Achonwa, Reimer sat alone along a wall. There was an awkwardness in her pose, hands folded in her lap as people with cameras and notebooks hurriedly passed without stopping to ask anything of the player who totaled four points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
Finally, another team official spared her, and she gladly slipped almost unnoticed into the locker room.
That might be the last time Reimer is anything like an afterthought during her time in South Bend. It is certainly the last time this season she will be. A team that time and again this season emphatically answered the questions of how it would fare without Skylar Diggins enters the Final Four facing questions of how it will fare without Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in the closing minutes against Baylor.
We don't know the answer to this latest question yet, but Reimer is part of it beyond what the 18.7 minutes and 7.4 points she has averaged to this point might suggest.
"I think Taya has had a very good year," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think that she would be a starter for most other programs in the country, and she was able to come off the bench and learn a lot through Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker and she is ready for this opportunity. I think she's been waiting for this opportunity all season long to break into the starting lineup, and she certainly is talented enough and has a great skill set."
Notre Dame doesn't need Reimer to be perfect. The freshman doesn't need to be Achonwa, although in terms of what is asked of a post player in McGraw's Princeton offense, those two things might be nearly one and the same. But if the Fighting Irish are to win Sunday's semifinal against No. 4 seed Maryland (ESPN and WatchESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET), they do need her to be ready.
Wherever Achonwa fits among a landscape of elite post players nationwide that includes Connecticut's Stefanie Dolson, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Duke's Elizabeth Williams and a handful of others, it's difficult to make a case any contributed in more facets of the game than she did for Notre Dame -- right down to delivering her memorably passionate instructions to her teammates before she headed to the locker room with the knee injury. Achonwa tallied 19 points and 15 rebounds Monday and was a decisive defensive presence. Losing that is a blow. Losing that days before a national semifinal is unprecedented.
Among the few cases even in the same neighborhood is Connecticut, which once lost Shea Ralph in the Big East championship game. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma also knows Achonwa well.