Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, center, looks on during the Marietta at Norcross girls high school basketball during the second round of Class AAAAA playoffs at Norcross High School on Tuesday. Auriemma came to watch Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22).
NORCROSS -- Anyone who follows women's college basketball couldn't help recognizing the man watching intently from the third row of the bleachers directly across from the Norcross bench.
Connecticut's Geno Auriemma had made a trip to the House of Blue on Tuesday night to watch Diamond DeShields up close against Marietta in the second round of the Class AAAAA state tournament.
DeShields didn't disappoint. Neither did her teammates.
DeShields scored 22, 15 in the first quarter, and fellow junior Shayla Cooper had all 17 of her points in the second half as No. 3-ranked Norcross defeated No. 10 Marietta 63-54.
Norcross (25-5) jumped to a 10-1 lead as DeShields, still playing with a sore left wrist, hit two quick 3-pointers. But Marietta (24-5) several times got back within a point and was down just six before Cooper converted a 3-point play inside the final minute.
"Diamond started off really hot and Shayla did a good job down the stretch," Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. "We played great at the start and at the end."
"They had to play well to beat us and they did," Marietta coach Ken Sprague said.
DeShields missed the last seven games of the regular season after fracturing her left wrist and Norcross lost the final two. But she returned for the region tournament and the Blue Devils have been on a roll, winning five straight in convincing fashion.
DeShields still wears a cast away from the court and switches to a molded splint when she plays. She doesn't appear to be hampered, though.
"I'm getting used to it," DeShields said. "It still hurts pretty bad, but I can't let it get to me. What's important is winning another state championship."
Maya Moore won three state titles at Collins Hill before going off to an All-American career at Connecticut. Now Auriemma's recruiting target is DeShields, who already has two state championships and a chance for four.
DeShields, who is used to plenty of attention, says that playing before Auriemma or other top college coaches doesn't affect her. Hembree, who coached Moore at Collins Hill, says it can't.
"You're playing for your high school and your high school is in the state tournament," Hembree said. "That's where your focus is. It's quite a compliment (to have a coach watching), but that doesn't have anything to do with what we're trying to do now."
DeShields, though, certainly put on a show in the first quarter, hitting all six of her attempts. "She hit some very difficult shots," Sprague said.
Then DeShields concentrated on getting the ball to her teammates in the middle two quarters before hitting her first three shots, including a 3-pointer, to start the fourth quarter.
DeShields finished 9-for-15 from the floor and had six rebounds, four assists and four steals to go with her game-high 22 points. Tori Carter and Jasmine Kemp each had nine points, all coming in the first half.
Norcross had a significant size advantage and used it well. Cooper had 10 rebounds, while Patrice Butler and Kemp followed DeShields' six with five each.
Marietta stayed close by hitting six 3-pointers, including four in the first quarter when they fought out of the 10-1 hole to get to within 22-19 at the end of the period. It was was 35-27 at halftime and 47-43 going into the fourth quarter.
Jasmine McSwain scored 16 of her 20 points for Marietta in the second half. Courtney Sprague had 12 points, Trana Hopkins contributed 11 and Kehera Wilson scored 10.
Now Norcross has to play unbeaten Parkview on Saturday at West Georgia in the quarterfinals. The No. 2-ranked Panthers used their defensive pressure to beat North Forsyth 48-16 on Tuesday night.
"We know what is at stake," DeShields said. "We're going to be ready for anyone. It's do or die."