Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Stanford's Carrington is having a breakout season

DiJonai Carrington’s 3-pointer from three-quarters court in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals against Washington in Las Vegas was bold. But not unusually bold.

The ball slipped through the net as if she has practiced it a million times. Maybe not a million, but a lot.

Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer wasn’t surprised to see her junior guard take that shot. She finishes every practice by taking half-court shots. The Hall of Fame coach wryly suggested that perhaps she also take some free throws. And Carrington just smiles.

Bold, after all, is what she does best.

“I feel like I play my best sometimes when I’m not thinking,” Carrington said.

Carrington’s breakout season for the Cardinal – which included being named to the All-Pac-12 Tournament team as well as the All-Pac-12 – has been a balancing act of embracing Carrington’s natural aggression and tempering her habit of going a bit too far or too fast.

“I’m really proud of her,” VanDerveer said. “She has improved a lot. Her decision-making has improved. Honestly, she’s very coachable. She is someone who wants to learn, pays attention works hard. She really knows our stuff. But there are times I have to tell her, ‘Less is more.’”

Carrington has learned she doesn’t have to make the thread-the-needle pass or barrel into the lane out of control.

“She wants to go to the basket, even if there’s somebody in between her and the basket, and sometimes that’s just a charge. There are times I’ve had to tell her ‘This won’t work’,” VanDerveer said. “But for our team, she is our emotional leader. She’s a warrior out there, she’s physical. And she has improved so much, and we are really excited about that.”

Carrington came off the bench her first two years before settling into the starting lineup this season. She called her freshman season an experience that “slapped me in the face a little.”

“I feel like I needed to settle in, trust the offense and what the coaches were telling me,” Carrington said. “I had to learn to stay under control and make the smart play. Building that trust with Tara, it has really helped me to play more calm and within myself.”

Carrington, the San Diego native, who played Pop Warner football as a young girl and experienced ACL tears in each of her knees during her high school career, is Stanford’s third-leading scorer at 14.1 points a game to go with 7.7 rebounds a game. She’s shot a team-leading 100 free-throws this season.

“I feel like my shot selection has improved,” Carrington said. “Tara always preaches about taking smarter shots, knowing when to take a shot and who needs to take it. It’s also about knowing when to play aggressive and when not to.”

She is averaging 18 points a game over the past five games, upping her production just in time for the postseason. Carrington scored 22 points in the win over Oregon on Sunday that sealed the Pac-12 Tournament title for the Cardinal and avenged a 40-point loss to the Ducks a month earlier.

“There’s no question that we are not 40 points different from Oregon, and I don’t think we ever were,” Carrington said. “They had a great game that day and we had a bad game that day. But I think (Sunday) we had something to prove to ourselves.”

Carrington has nothing to prove to her coach who sees nothing but a bright future. Even if she wouldn’t mind her taking a few more shots from the free-throw line at the end of practice.

“D has a lot of upside,” VanDerveer said. “There is a long way for her to go, in a good way. But she’s had a fantastic year.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page. She was just named winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball.

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