Asia Durr sizzling behind 3-point line

Asia Durr is off to a fast start in her second season with the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, taking and making most of her shots from behind the 3-point line.

Asia Durr is hitting 52% of her 3-point attempts (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Asia Durr is making good on  52% of her 3-point attempts after the first two games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

After two games, 11 of Durr’s 15 baskets have come on 3-point shots. She has attempted 21 of them, and is connecting on 52.4% of her attempts. She is the team’s leading scorer with 42 points and averaging 21 points per game.

Durr would score all of her 18 points in 16 minutes of the first half against Belmont on Sunday. Connecting on seven of shot attempts, including four of eight 3-point attempts.

UofL had the game well in hand at the half with a 47-25 lead. Durr would play only six minutes in the final 20 minutes en route to a 73-50 win before a crowd of 8,347 at the KFC Yum! Center.

Cierra Johnson, Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen would score 18, 13 and 4 points, respectively. The Cardinals exceeded 20 assists for a second straight game.  Moore had six of Louisville’s 21 assists while grabbing five rebounds. 

Asia Durr back at full strength for Louisville women

Asia Durr is fully recovered and ready to be a difference maker.
Asia Durr is fully recovered and ready to be a difference maker.

Her freshman year was a trying time for Asia Durr, struggling to recover from pre-season groin surgery.  At one point Coach Jeff Walz considered giving her a medical redshirt, the pain so great.

Durr didn’t want any part of it, playing through the hurting. She would start in only two games, averaging more than 22 minutes in 31 of Louisville’s 34 games last season. She would contribute 15 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.

Pretty good numbers. But Durr is not just any player.

She was back to old self Sunday, the one considered the No. 1 recruit by many analysts, in the University of Louisville’s 97-50 win over Lindsey Wilson College in an exhibition game at the KFC Yum! Center.

Durr stole a pass at half court shortly after the opening tip off and drove the distance for a layup for the opening basket. She would also connect on four of four 3-point attempts during the first quarter, along with two steals and three rebounds.

Leaving little doubt that this will be a different kind of season for the 5-foot-10 sophomore. She would capture game scoring honors with 19 points, making seven of 10 shots, including five 3-pointers.

Walz was happy to see Durr back at full strength, saying she is a different player. He wants to see taking many more shots, however.

“I’m really excited for her,” he said. “I don’t think 10 shots is enough for her. She’s going to have to figure out a way to get more shots.”

Myisha Hines-Allen, the returning ACC player of the year, was good for 15 points, as was freshman Jazmine Jones. Ciera Johnson, another newcomer, contributed 14 points. Sam Fuehring and Bionca Dunham each had 10 rebounds.

Asia Durr is one of those players, who like her teammate Hines-Allen, makes everybody around her better. The scary thing for the opposition is that UofL is already loaded with more than its share of exceptional talent this season.

Jeff Walz sees his team again at press conference

Jeff Walz was hit hard by the flu bug over the weekend, and he hasn’t been the same since. He coached the team from a balcony overlooking the court on Monday, not wanting to infect members of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team.

He intended to coach them on Tuesday, getting out of his sick bed, hopping in his car to go to practice. “I got halfway there and had to pull over to the side of the road and go back home,” he said, without providing graphic details.  “I’m not 100% now but I’m feeling better, probably 80%. I should be okay by Friday.”Jeff Walz

He was seated at a table at an NCAA press conference Thursday, alongside Myisha Hines-Allen, Mariya Moore and Asia Durr. “This is about as close as I have been to the team in about five days. I’m very fortunate to have a great staff.  They know exactly what we’re trying to do and what we’re going to do. We all have each other’s backs, it’s something we pride ourselves on here.”

The coach’s eyes seem to light up as he heard his players discuss their commitment to getting better on defense going into Friday’s NCAA game against Arkansas Central.

“The coaches have been stressing defense all week,” said Hines-Allen. “When we played Syracuse (a loss in the ACC tournament), we didn’t play defense. Offensively, we can play with a lot of teams, we just need to work on defense.”

“Defense, defense, defense,” said Moore. “We’ve done a lot of work on defense and we need to be at our strongest in tournament play.”

Music to Walz’s ears, the coach with the bleary eyes actually managing a smile.

“The tournament is what we’ve been preparing for for six months,” he said. “If you have a bad day in the tournament, we’re done. You might not make shots,  you might not do something you normally do well but you have to figure out a way to have a positive impact. If you’re not on the floor, be cheering.

“We played enough basketball now that our freshmen are no longer freshmen. Youth is not an excuse. We’re prepared, they’re prepared. We hope it’s going to be a great weekend of basketball.”

That would put the effects of flu a distant memory.

Asia Durr propels Louisville women to new level

Just a couple of days ago, Coach Jeff Walz was indicating that Asia Durr was likely to miss the rest of the season, citing her slow recuperation from a groin operation this past summer.

“She just hasn’t had the success trying to come back that she was hoping for,” Walz said. “It’s really limited her ability to have any kind of explosion, any kind of foot speed. It’s really affected her as much physically as mentally.”

Asia Durr makes everybody better.
Asia Durr makes everybody better.

My, how things can change in a couple of days for young athletes.

Durr was one of the first players off the bench Thursday, looking like her old self, leading the University of Louisville women’s basketball team to an impressive 85-78 win over Michigan State. Played 23 minutes, including the crucial ones at the end, holding off the inevitable MSU rally.

Looking every bit like the Asia Durr regarded by many as the No. 1 recruit in her class, she brought with a new level of confidence to the UofL offense heretofore unseen this season. Connecting on five of 11 field goal attempts and five of seven free throws for 20 points. She was also dishing out a couple of assists and copping three steals.

Following the game, Walz had no explanation for the quick turnaround in Durr’s physical outlook, happily proclaiming, “Asia Durr makes us a different team.” Nothing like the team that was 1-4 arriving at East Lansing.

Her presence on the court setting a different tone, inspiring her teammates, making everybody look better, like the team UofL fans expected to see this season.  Courtnee Walton, becoming a scorer, hitting key shots down the stretch, 12 points for the night. Mariya Moore and Briahanna Jackson combining for five 3-pointers, scoring 20 and 13 points, respectively. Turning the Spartans over 27 times.

A different team with Asia Durr, indeed.

Jeff Walz: Great expectations for Louisville women’s basketball

Jeff Walz is engulfed by media prior to UofL women's basketball tipoff luncheon.
Jeff Walz is engulfed by media prior to the UofL women’s basketball tipoff luncheon at the Downtown Marriott.

A crowd of more than 650 people showed up for the 2015 tip-off luncheon for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team Wednesday at the Downtown Marriott. Quite a contrast from a few years ago when the event was drawing maybe 300 fans.

Coach Jeff Walz, entering his ninth season at UofL, acknowledging the growing support, along with the sense of anticipation for the upcoming season.  “It’s all about expectations,” he told the media before lunch. “When I first got here we were talking about getting past the second round in the NCAA,” he said. “Now we’re talking about Final Fours and winning championships. I’m really proud of where this program is now but we’re not satisfied.”

During his first eight seasons, Walz has a 208-77 won-lost record. His teams have been to the Sweet 16 six times and have finished as national runner-up twice while turning out five WNBA draft picks, including Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel.

Walz said recruiting success has made it possible to raise expectations. “In order to have expectations, you have to have great players. You can coach as much as you want, but if you don’t have players who can perform it really doesn’t matter.”

His 2015 recruiting class includes five players ranked among the top 50 in the country, including Asia Durr, considered among the best in the class. It also includes 6-foot-3 Samantha Fuering, 6-foot-4 Erin DeGrate, Taja Cole and Brianna Jones.

Another addition is Briahanna Jackson, an outstanding transfer guard from Central Florida University, who was introduced publicly for the first time during the luncheon. She’s good enough to possibly nail down a starting spot.

“We have a wonderful group of young women,” he said during the luncheon. “This has been one of the most enjoyable pre-seasons that I have had.  They work hard, they have a great sense of humor and they care about each other. You’re going to be excited about this group.”

*   *   *

Walz also took a moment to express his appreciation to Tom Jurich for hiring him. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Tom Jurich giving me this opportunity nine years ago,” he said.

Alluding to his one-time stuttering challenge, Walz said “it took some courage for Tom to hire me. This (making public speeches) was something I didn’t do very well, speaking in front of people, speaking to the media. It’s part of the job. You have to go out there and sell your product and sell your university.

“I’m grateful to Tom for giving the opportunity. It’s hard to believe I’m going on year nine. I plan on being here for many more years.”