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.”

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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.”