CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Diamond DeShields has proven she can beat any defense thrown at her.
North Carolina’s star freshman shoots the 3, reliably knocks down pull-up jumpers and scores off the dribble. Now she has the Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16, and the challenge of stopping her next falls to South Carolina in the Stanford Regional on Sunday.
”You can take away something but then I’m pretty well-rounded,” DeShields said. ”I feel like once you take one thing, I’ll just go do something else. If you put a short guard on me, a quick guard, then I’ll just go post up. If you put a long wing on me, and I’ll go by them.
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”You know, certain players are just going to do what they do. You can only hope to contain them – and I’m blessed to have people say that about me.”
The 6-foot-1 guard from Norcross, Ga., has seen plenty of different defenses, from man to zone and even an appropriately named diamond-and-1 at North Carolina State last month.
Yet the Atlantic Coast Conference’s freshman of the year has thrived all season for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-9). The daughter of former major league baseball player Delino DeShields averages a team-high 18.1 points, has scored in double figures in all but four games and even set a single-game freshman scoring record with 38 points – 27 after halftime – in that N.C. State win.
She struggled for much of the NCAA first-round game against UT Martin, going without a basket in the first half before sparking UNC’s comeback from 18 down to win. Two days later, she dominated Michigan State with 24 points and a season-high 12 rebounds while locking down defensively on senior Klarissa Bell in the victory.
Spartans coach Suzy Merchant called DeShields ”a special talent” and said she was unlike any player her team had faced in the Big Ten, most notably in how she elevates over defenders.
”When she’s what she was tonight,” Merchant said, ”you can’t stop her.”
Now it’s up to the top-seeded Gamecocks (29-4) and coach Dawn Staley to slow her down. The teams met in December, with DeShields scoring 17 points in UNC’s 74-66 win.
”She was born to play this game,” Staley said. ”You’ve got to try and defend her, make it harder for her to get in the flow. She’s a hard guard for us and any team she’s facing. You can’t let her get off and help everybody else get off, too.”
If there is a blueprint for defending DeShields, UCLA came the closest to it in November.
UCLA coach Cori Close said her team played zone to clog the paint and force the Tar Heels to shoot from outside. Close said her team privately aimed to limit DeShields to about 15 points.
Instead, DeShields missed early shots, got in foul trouble and never got into a good rhythm. She finished with her worst game: three points on 1-for-8 shooting before fouling out in just 20 minutes in UNC’s 78-68 win.
Of course, that scheme wouldn’t work if DeShields is hitting from outside.
”I think I’d see what kind of day she’s having – is she having a Tennessee-Martin day or a Michigan State day?” Close said. ”I think you have to pick something with her. If I thought she was really hitting her jumper, … I’d probably designate one person that that would be her only job, to faceguard her and try to deny touches before she even gets it and make her work harder to get those kind of touches.
”If she’s having a good night, you’re going to have a tough time. At the same time, if you can make her work extremely hard even to touch the ball, maybe over the course of time you can slow her down.”
Besides, that defensive attention opens up DeShields’ teammates, like when fellow freshman Allisha Gray scored a season-high 30 points with six 3-pointers in UNC’s win at UCLA.
At this point, DeShields – who is averaging 20.5 points in her last 12 games – is ready for anything.
”If you have to defend me, it’s mental and you’ve just got to be ready,” DeShields said. ”I’ll throw curve balls, it’s not just going to be the same pitch. You’ve just got to stay on your toes.”
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap