LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Asia Durr looked for the opening quarter of Sunday's Preseason WNIT final like she might be able to beat one of the best teams in the country all by herself.
Fifth-ranked Louisville looked in the next quarter like it might not even need the services of its star to beat 10th-ranked Oregon.
The sum of those quarters is the blueprint for the kind of season that ends up the road in the Final Four in Columbus and a chance to play for something more meaningful than the crystal bauble awarded after Sunday's 74-61 win.
A good conclusion to a season-opening stretch of five games in 10 days, including three ranked opponents, also offered a suggestion of what kind of future the Cardinals could have.
"If you had told me a month ago that we'd come through this 5-0, I'd have told you you were probably wrong," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "[A 4-1 record], I would have jumped up and down. But 5-0 I think shows the character of these young women I'm working with. We can play two ways."
He went on to explain those two styles, the frenetic tempo that produced 185 combined points in a win at Ohio State a week ago and the more workmanlike grinding pace against an Oregon team that would have preferred to run. But if Sunday is any indication, the sentiment is just as true in describing a team that can get out of Durr's way when needed or offer an ensemble production.
Louisville rose to prominence on the individual brilliance of Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel, and struggled when they struggled. In Durr, the program has another player who is at least that good. But the team around her looks better. At least it did Sunday.
A week after Durr scored a career-high 47 points in an overtime win at Ohio State, it looked for a quarter as if she might provide a sequel against another top-10 foe. While she missed her first two shots Sunday, she didn't miss again in the quarter. She finished with 14 points in the first 10 minutes, matching Oregon's total as the Cardinals took a 23-14 lead.
Durr has an ability to make her movements appear increasingly effortless. The junior guard eased into spin moves in the lane and flicked jumpers when given just inches of room. But barely a minute into the second quarter, she picked up a second foul. Walz left her in for one more possession but couldn't risk a potential third foul so early in the proceedings.
Durr sat down. Louisville then outscored Oregon 20-13 to take a 16-point halftime lead.
"My goal was to see if I could go two or three minutes," Walz said. "Well, when we started extending the lead, there was no sense in putting her back in the game. I never claimed to be smart, but I'm not stupid. Why put her back, we actually have some momentum going? And then it gave her eight minutes of rest."
When Louisville lost by more than 30 points to Baylor in the Sweet 16 a year ago, Durr struggled through a 6-for-21 shooting effort without much help. And there will be games, especially big games, in which Louisville needs her to be superwoman -- that is the whole point of having a player like that. But the Cardinals, who also got 17 points and 12 rebounds from senior Myisha Hines-Allen on Sunday, also need to be more than that to take the next step this season. It was one quarter on a afternoon in November, but they need to look like the second quarter Sunday.
"You have another All-American with Hines-Allen who picked up the slack there," said Oregon coach Kelly Graves, whose Ducks (3-1) lost for the first time this season. "Hey listen, they've got a good team. They've got a bunch of All-Americans. He does a good job with them and they play hard. It's not just Durr, and I think that's what makes them so effective. I think on any given night they can beat anybody -- because she suddenly gets hot, we've seen what she can do to anybody. But I thought in the second quarter when she was out they got really physical and they got some easy baskets during that stretch."
But it wasn't just Hines-Allen, who did look the part of a former ACC player of the year. In fact, for a couple of minutes after Durr first went to the bench, Louisville played without either her or Hines-Allen on the court. The first such possession looked predictably out of sorts, but with Hines-Allen still waiting at the scorer's table to check in, Sydney Zambrotta called for the ball on the wing, drove to the basket and earned two free throws.
Dana Evans, the highly touted freshman point guard, drove through traffic multiple times to create shots for herself. Even when Durr returned and hit big 3-pointers to keep the lead in double digits throughout the second half, finishing with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, Jazmine Jones and Sam Fuehring provided opportunistic points of their own.
"In the third quarter I came out and I was like, 'Man, I feel old,'" joked Durr, who was born the same year "Titanic" arrived in movie theaters. "I had no idea I was going to pick up two quick fouls, but my teammates came out strong and they kept on fighting. I'm so proud of them. We're showing what we can do as a team."
But for as well as the Cardinals made the right adjustments, the Ducks and sophomore Sabrina Ionescu -- who had back-to-back triple-doubles before Sunday's game -- were nowhere near as successful.
"They have a great point guard, so we were trying to get the ball out of her hands," Durr said. "I think we did a great job of doing that."
"It's not just [Asia] Durr, and I think that's what makes them so effective. I think on any given night they can beat anybody."Oregon coach Kelly Graves on Louisville
While Jones was the primary defender assigned to Oregon's star, Louisville committed multiple defenders to her every time she came off a ball screen. Time and again, Ionescu's progress was halted near midcourt before Oregon could initiate much in the way of offense. Without its catalyst, either scoring points or creating opportunities for others, Oregon foundered.
"We do rely on a lot of ball screens because we're not the quickest team," Graves said. "We don't have a lot of players who can just break you down one-on-one, so we have to do with what we have. And they just trapped her each and every ball screen. We were a little slow to pick and pop -- we have some post kids that can make that midrange shot.
"That first half, we were just out of character. We lost some composure."
Which is exactly what Louisville didn't do when fouls took Durr out of the game.
"With Shoni, with Angel, I don't necessarily think we had the depth at times," Walz said. "What we're able to do with Asia is take her off the ball and move her around. And her teammates do a remarkable job of setting screens for her and finding her in space.
"For Asia, and I told her tonight, this is the best thing that can ever happen to you. ... It's going to take pressure off. You can't go and double when you've got others that can step up and score it."
Sunday started out like another performance for the ages. It turned out it didn't need to be.