July 21, 2015
TORONTO — They are two of the finest post players the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball program has ever produced. On Monday, they stepped into the spotlight of the Pan Am Games title contest and showed why the Fighting Irish have a well-crafted reputation for developing players that succeed at all levels.
Former Notre Dame All-American Natalie Achonwa (’14) scored nine of her 13 points in the third quarter to help Canada pull away for an 81-73 victory over the United States on Monday night in the finals of the 2015 Pan Am Games before a near-capacity crowd at the Ryerson Athletic Centre in Toronto. It was Canadian Senior National Team’s second gold medal, and first since the 1995 FIBA Americas Championship (also that year’s Olympic qualifier) played in nearby Hamilton, Ontario.
“What an incredible moment and to do it in front of our home crowd, it’s hard to put into words,” Achonwa said. “This was a goal of ours, to win the Pan Am Games right here in Toronto, and we did it and we couldn’t be happier.”
Notre Dame junior forward Taya Reimer (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) did all she could to help the USA Basketball cause on Monday, earning her fifth start in as many games at the tournament and scoring 10 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Team USA settled for the silver medal, its fifth runner-up showing at the Pan Am Games, along with seven golds, since the tournament debuted in 1955.
“We just knew this was going to be a battle, and it was,” Reimer said. “I was trying to do anything and everything I could to help keep us in the game. It was a learning experience and definitely not how we wanted to finish, but I feel like I got better and I got a lot of things that I can take back to school.”
“It was a tough matchup going up against Taya, kind of like we did in practice a couple of years ago,” Achonwa added. “I think it says a lot about the quality of our program at Notre Dame that here we are, battling for a gold medal and representing our countries at the highest level.”
With Monday’s victory, Achonwa collects her first career gold medal, the 15th international gold by a Notre Dame women’s basketball player, and the 12th in the past six years. All told, the Fighting Irish have developed 18 international basketball veterans, and counting Monday’s twin medals, Notre Dame women’s basketball players have earned a total of 29 medals (15 gold) during the program’s 38-year history.
Achonwa now has four career international medals, adding Monday’s gold to a pair of silver medals and a bronze medal. The current rookie forward for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever nabbed a silver with Team Canada at both the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and 2013 FIBA Americas Championship, and received a bronze medal for Canada at the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship.
Achonwa did not play in Canada’s Pan Am Games opener while resting her surgically-repaired knee. However, she was a major force off the bench in the remaining four games for the host country, averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, including team highs of 15 points and seven rebounds in Saturday’s preliminary-round win over Cuba.
Reimer started all five games for USA Basketball at the 2015 Pan Am Games, averaging 6.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. She earned her fourth international medal, coupling Monday’s silver with a pair of gold medals at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship. She also garnered an honorary bronze medal with the 2011 USA Basketball 3×3 Youth Team that had to forfeit its third-place game at the FIBA Youth World Cup (now the 3×3 U18 World Championship) due to injury.
Notre Dame had an additional representative on Team USA’s Pan Am Games staff this weekend, as athletic trainer Anne Marquez completed her second tour with USA Basketball. Marquez, who recently played a key role in helping Achonwa rehabilitate from her 2014 knee injury and is widely regarded as one of the elite women’s basketball athletic trainers in the nation, previously worked with the American side that won the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Gurabo, Puerto Rico — one of the members of that team was current Notre Dame senior guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan).
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— Chris Masters, Athletics Communications Associate Director