Notre Dame women face tall task in defending Louisville's Asia Durr

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame could make a case, at least a kidding one, that Asia Durr has been taunting the Irish this season.

First, the University of Louisville women’s basketball superstar got chosen to the 2017-20 USA National Team Pool, a group from which the 2020 Olympic team will likely emerge.

Last month’s announcement of that 29-player list — which does include three ex-Notre Dame individuals in Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride — prompted Irish coach Muffet McGraw at the time to say she was “a little disappointed that (current ND players) Jessica (Shepard) and Arike (Ogunbowale) didn’t get invited.”

Durr was among just five active college players who did get invites, the rest of the 29 comprised of pro players.

Then last week, Durr went down writhing in pain during the second quarter of the Cardinals’ 66-60 win over Duke. It appeared dreadfully serious when Durr had to be carried from the court by a team official.

Yet, she was back from what proved a twisted ankle before the quarter ended.

ND hasn’t been so lucky when its players go down. The Irish have lost four for the season to knee injuries since last March.

No. 2-ranked Notre Dame (15-1 overall, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) visits Durr and the No. 3 Cardinals (18-0, 4-0) Thursday in a 7 p.m. nationally televised showdown.

“A great opportunity, a 2-3 matchup, what more could you ask for?” Shepard said Wednesday following practice.

Though it’s early, the winner of the game grabs at least an apparent inside track toward an ACC title. Virginia (4-0) is the only other unbeaten left in the league, but the Cavaliers have not played a perceived contender yet and are just 11-6 overall.

Adding to the urgency for the Irish, they face all three of their ranked ACC brethren this season on the road only — Florida State is No. 13 and Duke is No. 16 — while Louisville plays all three only at home.

“That’s just the way it goes,” McGraw said Wednesday with a shrug.

Ogunbowale was similarly shrugging at her side being down to seven scholarship players.

“This is our team now, with the little numbers,” Ogunbowale said, “so we don’t really talk about the injuries anymore. We just go out there and play like this is how we started the season.”

For Ogunbowale, averaging a team-leading 20.8 points per game, Thursday’s contest puts her up against one of her close friends in Durr, averaging a team-leading 20.2.

The two junior guards have played together on U16 and U17 national teams, as McDonald’s All-Americans, and most recently last summer on the U23 U.S. squad that was guided to the Four Nations Tournament title in Tokyo by UL coach Jeff Walz.

“She’s a great player. She can really do anything,” Ogunbowale said of Durr. “She can shoot, she can drive it. We’re going to have to really keep our eye on her and try to see where she is on the court at all times.”

“It’s going to be hard to guard her in the zone,” acknowledged McGraw, whose team has extensively gone with 2-3 zone in its last two games, “but we just can’t afford to play man-to-man for 40 minutes right now. So we just have to try to be smart and figure out how we can best defend without getting in foul trouble.”

Though ND beat Louisville 85-66 in the regular season and 84-73 in the ACC Tourney last winter, it wasn’t due to shutting down Durr.

Over those two games, she hit 18-of-36 shots with nine 3-pointers, averaging 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

“We could not guard her, so that’s definitely number 1 on the scouting report,” McGraw said.

This season, Durr has converted 56-of-118 shots outside the arc to stand seventh in the nation at 47.5 percent. Her overall net field goal percentage when accounting for those 3s is 58.8 percent. She’s also 56-of-66 at the line for 84.8 percent.

Myisha Hines-Allen, a 6-2 senior forward, is adding 13.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for the Cardinals.

Louisville, which has never been ranked higher than its current No. 3, will try to extend the top winning streak in program history to 19 games, and will seek its 17th straight win at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cardinals have averaged more than 9,300 for home games since moving into the $238 million arena in 2010, and figure to have plenty more than that on hand Thursday.

“It’s going to be hard to hear everything,” Ogunbowale said of her team’s communication. “They have a lot of support, so it’s going to be a crazy environment.”

“We’re really ready for this game,” McGraw assessed after Wednesday’s practice. “I think it’s been kind of looming in the future, but it’s one we gotta take it just like every other game.”

Thompson and Turner

While Lili Thompson’s eligibility will be exhausted after this season by standard NCAA guidelines, the Irish guard is not ruling out applying for a special waiver for another year of collegiate play after suffering her season-ending injury Dec. 31 at Wake Forest.

“I gotta talk to my family, think about it,” Thompson said Wednesday.

Thompson played three full seasons at Stanford before sitting out last season and playing this season as a graduate transfer for Notre Dame. She played in too many games in 2017-18 for the season to automatically not count against her total.

Meanwhile, McGraw said over the weekend that there’s virtually no chance Brianna Turner will return this season from last March’s knee injury.

Of course, that has been the plan ever since Turner announced in the fall that she would wait until 2018-19 to come back, but by NCAA rule, there’s also nothing prohibiting a change of plan if she is healthy.

“Oh, no, she’s not even close,” McGraw said. “She’s not even practicing yet.”

Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) guards Louisville’s Asia Durr (25) during the first half, Monday, February 6, 2017 in South Bend. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (15-1, 4-0 ACC) vs. No. 3 Louisville (18-0, 4-0).

WHERE: KFC Yum! Center (22,090), Louisville, Ky.

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

NOTING: No. 3 Louisville is one of four unbeatens left in D-I, joined by No. 1 UConn, No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 6 Tennessee. No. 2 Notre Dame already has played Connecticut and will host Tennessee a week after visiting the Cardinals … UL's ACC Preseason Player of the Year Asia Durr has converted 56-of-118 on 3s for 47.5 percent. The rest of the team is at 56-of-170 for 32.9. … Irish leaders include Arike Ogunbowale (20.8 ppg), Jessica Shepard (14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Jackie Young (13.5 ppg, 7.3 ppg) and Marina Mabrey (12.5 ppg, 3.7 assists). … Notre Dame has beaten UL 11 straight times, including three straight in Louisville, since the Cards' February 2009 win in South Bend.

QUOTING: “We worry more at practice than we do in the game. Once the game starts, you just gotta go. I think we have to get to that point in practice. We're not quite there yet, because it's still too fresh, but I think within the next week or so, we're just gonna relax and go, 'Well, we got seven, this is the team that we have.'” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on whether there's a fear factor from this season's slew of serious injuries.