Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Bri Williams (13) drives the ball while defended by McEachern" Mia Cooper (2) during the second quarter of a girls basketball game this season.
After a long delay, two of Gwinnett County's — and the nation's — top girls basketball teams are finally set to meet for the first time this season when Norcross visits North Gwinnett for a showdown for sole possession of first place in Region 7-AAAAAA Tuesday night in Suwanee.
It was originally scheduled to be a the rematch of a meeting between the host Bulldogs (15-0, 8-0, ranked No. 3 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 11 by USA Today) and the Blue Devils (14-2, 8-0) from Nov. 30.
But with both schools' football teams still alive in the state playoffs at the time, that game was moved to Jan. 23 at Norcross, making Tuesday's game the highly-anticipated initial matchup in the season series between the two region powers in the season series.
"Our football teams are too good," joked Norcross coach Angie Hembree. "I know our kids are excited about (finally playing Norcross) and their kids are excited about it. … Hopefully, we can bring our best game."
All eyes will be on marquee players from both teams that are expected to bring their best games to the court tonight.
Among those are two-time defending Daily Post Girls Player of the Year and North Carolina signee Diamond DeShields, who currently leads the county in scoring a 26.2 points per game and adds 6.4 rebounds, 6.0 steals and 2.4 assists per game, and Georgetown-bound Shayla Cooper (12.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.2 spg, 1.9 apg) for Norcross and Maryland signee Lexie Brown (18.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, Gwinnett-best 7.0 apg) and Penn State-bound Peyton Whitted (14.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) for North.
But while the stars are expected to come out, the outcome may come down to the impressive supporting casts both the Bulldogs and Blue Devils boast.
"Big-time players show up for big-time games, and hopefully that will be the case for us (Tuesday night)," Hembree said. "But a lot of times, the it's the supporting cast that may make the difference. Bri Williams has been our point guard the last few years and gotten considerably better and contributed more and more and become the point guard we want to have. Kolby Meeks I've been very proud of. She's been doing a good job lately. Sierra Butler, Sydney Marshall and Javonne Stanfield have all given us good minutes. So, we're going to need all of those girls to step up."
Likewise, North have gotten solid contributions from the likes of Stephanie Armichia, Joshlyn Belcher, Alyssa Munlyn and Baylee Rexing.
Despite being new to the program this season, Armichia and Belcher have incorporated their respective games into system fairly quickly and given the Bulldogs a sense of cohesiveness that coach Bryan Sellers says continues to grow.
"Our team chemistry is really good right now, and I think that says a lot for us," Sellers said.
While Tuesday's game is the first meeting between the two teams this season, it won't be the last.
Thanks to the rescheduled game, this game marks the first of two meetings between the Bulldogs and Blue Devils in an eight-day span, with more battles possible in the region and state tournaments.
But as Sellers points out, the players from both teams are already far from strangers.
"We've played each other six times over the last two years," Sellers said. "So, we're pretty familiar with each other. Without a doubt, our girls are excited to play them. We know they have a lot of pride, and both programs want to prove themselves."