She started playing basketball when she was 3, but Asia Durr didn’t really get good until she was 10 or 11.
When her shot began to fall.
Durr says she was in fifth or sixth grade when her father helped her develop a sweet, left-handed jump shot that has made her into one of the top players in the game and a light-up-the-scoreboard star of the University of Louisville’s undefeated women’s basketball team.
“It’s something I’ve been practicing since I was a kid, ever since the first time I picked up a basketball,” says Durr, a 5-foot-10 junior from Douglasville, Ga., who averages 20 points per game — with a season high of 47 against Ohio State.
Durr will have a lot of eyes watching her — including those of her opponents — when No. 3-ranked Louisville (18-0) takes on No. 2 Notre Dame (15-1) in a nationally televised showdown of Atlantic Coast Conference powers Thursday, Jan. 11, in the KFC Yum! Center (ESPN, 7 p.m.).
Durr remembers how she got her shot.
“It was kinda weird because when I was younger, I didn’t know which hand to shoot with, because I could use both hands,” Durr tells Insider. “I could throw with my right, and I still write with my right hand.”
But her right wasn’t right for basketball.
Durr’s dad, Terry Durr, thought she should give her left hand a try.
“I started off shooting with two hands, so we had to get that fixed right away, because you can’t shoot with two hands and have a successful jump shot,” says Durr. “So we got the left hand down pat, and I just kept doing reps after reps, and I got my shot down.”
Durr joined an Atlanta travel team, and she and her dad would arrive two hours before practice. Going straight from school to the gym. “I got my shots up … and, well, I haven’t stopped shooting since,” says Durr, 20. “I do it every day, and I take pride in that.”
The soft stroke
Durr began thinking ahead to when she would face taller players. Five-9 is nice size for a guard in college ball, but there are 6-footers in opposing backcourts and even taller defenders lurking closer to the basket.
It was a matter of changing her form, says Durr.
“I look at (NBA star) Steph Curry and he talks about his form all the time. He talks about how he changed his form because he was an undersized guard. His dad (former NBA player Dell Curry) worked on getting his shot above his head. He told him, ‘You can’t shoot it from your hip when you’re playing against guys way taller than you.’ So I paid attention to that,” she says.
In high school in Atlanta, Durr enlisted the help of trainer Dorian Lee to raise the release point of her jump shot, with an eye to college ball.
“We made big changes getting my shot up higher, so I could get it up against 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 players,” says Durr. “He’s an absolutely great shooter, and we still make changes with my shot. Little things.”
But the shot is there.
Last week against No. 17 Duke, Durr scored the first three times she touched the ball to get Louisville off and winging to a 66-60 victory.
Durr’s first basket flashed her style: She balances her feet as she takes a pass from a teammate, then comes straight up off her toes — getting her lift and eyeing the basket for a 20-foot jumper.
The power rises through her body as Durr brings the ball up past her eyes. She twirls the ball slightly to tee it up on her right fingertips, and strokes the ball skyward with her left.
Bottom of the bucket.
Nothing but net.
Whipping it around
That’s the Asia Durr jumper — and it is certainly a powerful weapon. The business of basketball is scoring, and few can score more or score faster that Asia Durr. In sports jargon, she can pour ’em in.
And that fits right into Louisville’s team chemistry, says Louisville coach Jeff Walz, thinking about her hot start against Duke.
“Asia made some pretty big shots right off the get-go,” says Walz. “And our kids were excited for her, they were trying to find her.”
But when opponents key in on Durr, the team whips the ball another direction, and other players score.
Durr says it’s automatic.
“It’s reacting to the way they’re playing, what defense they’re playing,” she explains. “So say they cut that off, taking away that wing, and you skip the ball over for a three-point shot on the other side. That’s a basketball read. Or they have the paint wide open, we make a high post flash and feed the ball under for an easy two points.”
Walz says that kind of team play is a hallmark of a club that has won 18 straight games — the longest streak in school history.
“They appreciate what each of them brings to our team,” says the coach. “And when you do that, you start realizing we have a chance to be pretty darn good. We have a chance to be special.”
And back for the shot
Louisville would be a good team without Asia Durr. It has fast, ball-handling guards and size and scoring inside.
The thing for opponents, then, would be to sag in on defense to gum up Louisville’s inside strength. Clog the passing lanes. Jam up the inner pathways to the basket.
And they would.
Except … Durr will torch them in a second if they don’t guard her.
So Durr’s outside shooting stretches the defense, opening up the court. Opening up the game.
Particularly for 6-2 senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen, who can operate inside.
Hines-Allen averages 13 points a game and seems to have a knack for coming up with clutch baskets, when needed.
But what she’s particularly good at is rebounding — anticipating shots, getting position with her quickness, blocking out with her strength. Then going up after the ball.
“Yes, Myisha!” exclaims Durr. “She’s one of the best rebounders in the country. She gets a double-double (double figures in scoring and rebounding) almost every night. I think it’s just amazing to see.”
And sets a standard for her teammates.
“She hustles,” says Durr. “She plays so hard, and on every board you can see her go up and she just grabs it, ’cause it’s hers.”
Fueling all that is Louisville’s sharp passing — an ancient basketball art certainly more alive today in women’s basketball than the men’s game. And particularly well-executed by this group of Cardinal collegians.
“We take pride in passing and just take pride in playing well with each other as a team,” says Durr. “I think we all have fun doing that when we’re scoring, and when we win. We love being out there with each other, playing as a team.”
The ball goes to one side, and a Louisville guard looks inside. The defense reacts, but Louisville is already winging the ball back around the perimeter.
Center Sam Fuehring steps out to the top of the key, takes a pass, and fires a two-handed fastball to …
It’s Asia Durr.
And she’s open.
Tossing ice on the scoreboard
Notre Dame (15-1, 4-0 in the ACC) is led by 5-8 guard Arike Ogunbowale, who averages 20 points a game. The Irish’s only loss was to No. 1 Connecticut, 80-71.
But the Irish women thrive on tradition. Coach Muffett McGraw is in her 31st season at Notre Dame, with 765 victories. She’s got 853 wins overall in 36 years coaching.
McGraw has led Notre Dame to seven Final Fours and an NCAA championship in 2001.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz (279-93) has averaged 26 wins per season in 11 years at UofL. During that period, the Cardinals have reached the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 seven times, with two runner-up finishes.
Notre Dame is averaging 84 points per game, with a 16-point scoring advantage over opponents. Louisville averages 79 points, with a 22-point margin.
With that kind of firepower available, defense in critical moments could prove paramount.
“You can’t just trade baskets, you’ve gotta get stops,” says Durr. “We take pride in our defense, but we’ve also struggled with it. You can’t outscore anyone if you’re just trading baskets. You’ve gotta get stops.”