CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Diamond DeShields has proven she can beat any defense thrown at her.
North Carolinas 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 tournaments 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 Im 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.
You know, certain players are just going to do what they do. You can only hope to contain them and Im 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 Conferences 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 UNCs 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 shes what she was tonight, Merchant said, you cant stop her.
Now its 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 UNCs 74-66 win.
She was born to play this game, Staley said. Youve got to try and defend her, make it harder for her to get in the flow. Shes a hard guard for us and any team shes facing. You cant 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 UNCs 78-68 win.
Of course, that scheme wouldnt work if DeShields is hitting from outside.
I think Id see what kind of day shes 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, Id 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 shes having a good night, youre 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 UNCs 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, its mental and youve just got to be ready, DeShields said. I'll throw curve balls, its not just going to be the same pitch. Youve just got to stay on your toes.