ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — When Louisville star Asia Durr retreated to the refuge of the locker room after the final game of her college career, she held court one more time as tears rolled down her cheeks in the emotional aftermath of a lost chance to reach the Final Four a second straight time.
Her message was heartfelt after the top-seeded Cardinals’ 79-73 loss to No. 2 seed UConn in the Albany Regional final on Sunday.
“I just said keep going, don’t cheat the game,” Durr said. “It goes by fast. Four years and then you’re done. Don’t cheat that process. Really soak it all in. Each day, each week. You want to gain as much as you can throughout these four years.”
Durr, two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, finished with a team-high 21 points — all but three in the second half — despite an awful start. She missed her first eight shots and was 1 of 10 at halftime but helped keep the Cardinals within striking range with her hustle.
“Just stay patient. It’s not the first time I’ve had bad nights,” said Durr, who also led Louisville with nine rebounds. “I just tried to find my teammates. I feel like I should have been more patient.”
UConn nearly blew an 11-point lead in the final two minutes of the game as Durr led a late Louisville charge. After missing a corner 3, Durr converted a layup off a pretty pass from Sam Fuehring and hit four straight free throws to key a 10-1 spurt.
After Arica Carter’s layup narrowed the gap to 75-73 with 26.6 seconds left, three seconds later UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson sank a pair of free throws to boost the UConn lead back to four. Durr was fouled by Napheesa Collier on the ensuing possession, missed both free throws, and the Huskies survived.
“I just couldn’t get it to fall tonight,” said Durr, whose career average from the line is 82 percent. “I’m proud of how we fought back. We came up with some huge steals. We just fought back hard. That’s just who we are. We kept on fighting.”
Durr was already in tears in the postgame line and was given a warm embrace by UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
“She’s had an amazing career,” Auriemma said. “She’s an incredibly gifted player. She really knows how to lead her team.”
Durr’s teammates were effusive in their praise.
“She’s meant everything,” Fuehring said. “She was very grateful to be with us. Coach (Jeff) Walz draws most of the plays up for her. She just is so accepting and grateful for us for letting him do that, for setting her up to be successful for her to be the player that she is today.”
“She’s done a lot of great things for this program,” senior guard Arica Carter added. “She’s grown in different ways that people don’t even know. As a person, she’s grown a lot. As a player, she’s grown a lot. Before, people said she couldn’t pass, she couldn’t rebound, she couldn’t play defense, but she’s doing all of those things. The way that she’s grown over the years as player on the court and off the court is amazing.”
Durr ends her career with 2,485 points, second at Louisville to Angel McCoughtry, and 453 rebounds. No wonder there’s talk of having her number retired.
“This loss really sucks. It really hurts,” Durr said. “I’m really proud, though. We still did some good things. You really can’t take that from us.
“I learned so much here. I learned how to handle when things go rough in life, period, when things go rough in basketball. It’s really taught me how to bounce back and fight through things that I never thought would take place.
“I can’t even put it into words, our fans and my teammates, my family,” she added. “This is a second home. I’m just thankful for everybody in my circle, what they’ve done for me. They’ve cheered me on even through my bad games.”