Photo: David McGregor<br> Norcross guard Diamond DeShields spins around Walton's Rachael Gibson in the first half of the Devils' victory over the Raiders in the first round of the Class AAAAA state basketball tournament Saturday.
NORCROSS — The Norcross girls won the Class AAAAA state title a year ago as a No. 2 seed. This season, they are a No. 1, but all that really means is an extra home game.
Alpharetta — the Blue Devils’ second-round opponent — is hardly an easy pairing.
“I know that they’ve got a good team,” Norcross sophomore standout Diamond DeShields said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We know that every team will be shooting for us.”
But as long as DeShields keeps playing like she has been, the defending state champs will be hard to knock off.
DeShields, who had 32 points in the Region 7-AAAAA title game against North Gwinnett, scored 23 on Saturday against Walton as the Blue Devils (25-3) rolled to a 61-39 victory in the first round of the state tournament.
It should be much more difficult for No. 2-ranked Norcross against Alpharetta, which finished tied for No. 8 in the coaches poll with Roswell after being edged by the Hornets in the Region 6-AAAAA title game.
Still, the Blue Devils remain the favorite by many to repeat as Class AAAAA state champs.
“I don’t feel that we are playing as well as we did last year,” DeShields said. “But I do feel that every day we are making progress. We are a team that is not going to take steps back. We haven’t reached our true potential yet, but I think we will.”
Walton (15-13) was no match for Norcross or DeShields. But the Raiders, the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAAAA, did stay close for a quarter.
Despite hitting its first five shots, Norcross led just 13-10 at the first break. Then the Blue Devils turned up the defensive intensity and really got rolling.
Norcross outscored Walton 19-6 in the second quarter to go up 32-16 at halftime and put the game out of reach. DeShields had eight of her 11 first-half points during the second-quarter outburst and Tori Carter had 10 points by intermission.
DeShields was honored Saturday by Norcross for being a member of the USA Under-18 team that won a gold medal in world competition last summer and also reaching the 1,000-point milestone as a high school player.
DeShields turned heads at the U.S. trials, making the Under-18 team despite being just 14, and she showed off her world-class game against Walton, making one acrobatic move after another.
But DeShields’ game is not just scoring. She had seven rebounds and four assists to go with her 23 points against the Raiders despite sitting out most of the final quarter.
Carter, a junior, finished with 13 points, while Wake Forest signee Dearica Hamby had nine points and six rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Sarah Durdaller, a 6-foot senior, led Walton with 19 points and nine rebounds. No other Raider reached double figures.