Cooper scores season-high 34 in Blue Devils blowout

CANTON -- It's been a season coming for Shayla Cooper.

Norcross' Georgetown-bound force in the paint kept approaching 30 points, but never quite reached the threshold.

"For like the past six games I've been trying to get to 30," Cooper said. "I kept getting 28, 29, 28, 29, 25. It was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I finally hit it tonight so I was pretty excited."

She had 30 by the end of the third quarter.

Cooper ended with a game-high 34 in Norcross' 76-43 win over Cherokee in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals, setting up a matchup with Langston Hughes in the semifinals at Georgia Tech this weekend.

"It's time to redeem ourselves," Cooper said. "Last year we lost in the Final Four."

In the Blue Devils' bid to return to the semifinals, the outcome wasn't in question very long.

Diamond DeShields opened the game by nailing a 3-pointer from the top of the key and the Blue Devils shot out to a 24-7 first quarter lead. The pressure, be it half or full court, rattled the Warriors into seven turnovers in the quarter and Cooper scored 13 of her 34 points in the first eight minutes.

"We knew that (Aunisha Williams) was their best player and the rest of the team couldn't handle the ball as well, so we pressured them into turnovers and got easy buckets on our end," Cooper said.

"We started out the game pretty good," Norcross head coach Angie Hembree said. "We want to be able to play good defense."

Cooper hit another 3 in the second quarter and by halftime had 22 points and all three of her blocked shots and the Blue Devils led 39-17.

And if during halftime Cherokee built up any hope of coming back, Norcross squashed it from the start of the third quarter.

Led by DeShields, who scored 14 of her 28 points in the quarter, the Blue Devils forced four turnovers and scored the first 11 points of the quarter before a Cherokee timeout with the Warriors trailing 54-17. DeShields had a team-high eight rebounds to go with her 28 points.

But it was the fire of Cooper that led the Blue Devils to the easy win. Cooper grabbed four rebounds and had three assists and steals as part of Norcross' relentless pressure.

"I hope they will all do that, we are in the state tournament," Hembree said.

"(Cooper) is a hoss underneath, now. She can get it done."

Just like Norcross, which enters the Final Four riding the emotional double-overtime win over Parkview and this dominating performance over Cherokee.

"I feel good that we haven't lost," Hembree said. "Hopefully, we can keep just surviving and advancing."