NCAAW
Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com 159d

Senior Asia Durr poised for epic final chapter at Louisville

Women's College Basketball, Louisville Cardinals

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Senior year comes whether players are ready for it. But some seniors are eager to embrace all of it: the expectations, the leadership, the responsibility. In Asia Durr, Louisville has that kind of player and person in full blossom.

From a talent standpoint, many observers would have said Durr was WNBA-ready after her sophomore season, when she averaged 19.2 points. Yet watching her play and talking to her now, you sense how much she has grown as a competitor and a team spokeswoman in the past year.

She was ACC player of the year and led Louisville to the Final Four in 2018, averaging 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. She was named a WBCA first-team All-American, just the second in Louisville history after WNBA great and Olympian Angel McCoughtry.

It was a reflection of a lot of hard work Durr put in going back to her high school days in Atlanta to be in better shape, eat healthier, prepare smarter and be ready to carry however big a load was needed.

Take all that and add just a little more seasoning, and you have the senior version of Durr, a 5-foot-10 guard ready for an epic last chapter with coach Jeff Walz and the Cardinals.

"I've really embraced that, being the go-to player," said Durr, who is averaging 28.5 points through two contests this season. "I want to be the player where, when the game is on the line, coach draws up the play for me.

"But whatever Coach needs me to do, I'll do it. Anything. He's asked me to do different things, like help lead the freshmen, help make them better, and that's been a good challenge."

The No. 5 Cardinals are 2-0 heading into Monday's game at Boise State. They will play in the Southpoint Shootout in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday against No. 22 Arizona State and Hartford. Their home opener will be Nov. 26 against Miami (Ohio).

Louisville lost just one starter from last season; Myisha Hines-Allen played in the WNBA Finals with the Washington Mystics this past summer. Durr is among eight juniors or seniors on the Louisville roster. There are three freshmen and one redshirt freshman, and they can take some time getting adjusted with the veterans leading the way.

The freshmen have Durr keeping a friendly eye on them. Despite being bothered by a groin injury her first season at Louisville, Durr averaged 11.0 points. But she remembers that none of it was easy.

"I see so much of myself in my teammates who are freshmen," she said. "Their confidence is low, they don't know what to expect, they're scared and nervous, and they want to do everything right. And that's impossible.

"Three years ago, my confidence was down, too. I was hurt, and I didn't know what to do. So I can help share my experience and say, 'Hey, that's normal. You're going to mess up. You're a freshman. That's expected. But how you bounce back? That tells it all.'"

Confidence is not as much a challenge anymore for Durr, but keeping her mind clear of unnecessary distractions can be. Now she takes the time to meditate daily, to talk to herself about what really matters, to lift her spirits if she's ever feeling any doubt.

It took her a little while to watch the video of Louisville's 73-63 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinals, which ended the Cardinals' season at 36-3. But when she did watch it, she critiqued it start to finish and noticed a lot of small mistakes that took their toll.

"We played a good game, but we didn't play our best game," said Durr, who had 18 points in that loss. "We were playing against a great team with a great coach and so much talent. You can't have many breakdowns because they expose you. We learned a lot more about ourselves as a team.

"The whole team has gotten better. Everybody has been focused on the same goal. We have one mission, and that's to get back to the Final Four and see what we can do with that."

Durr might be a lottery pick in the WNBA draft in April, and she has heard from Hines-Allen about some of the ups and downs that rookies face in the pro league. But she won't spend much time thinking about that yet.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself," Durr said. "This is my last year, so I want to leave a mark here with how people will think of me -- not just with basketball but with the type of person I am. I like spending time with our fans and the kids who look up to me. With that and school and basketball, it keeps me pretty busy."

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