MERRILLVILLE | Before every girls basketball game this season, Merrillville's Dariyan Morris would chew a cup of ice.
She said she liked the taste, the way it crunched in her teeth and how refreshing it was.
To her opponents, it meant that the senior guard stepped out onto the court with the cold ice running through her body.
Morris was unflinching in the way she handled the ball. As unselfish as she was willing to take any open shot, she was a defensive nightmare.
The only thing to slow her down this season was a back injury suffered in the sectional opener against Portage. Though she couldn't walk, couldn't sleep and needed to see a chiropractor before the sectional finals and the regional games, she wouldn't use the injury as a crutch in any postseason game she played.
"I couldn't move. Every time I tried to the pressure on my back was excruciating," Morris said. "I couldn't use that an excuse. I just tried to not think about it and just play. I couldn't change what I'd been doing, because it would mess up my game, so I just said 'don't think about it and play.'"
Taking over this season as the Pirates go-to guard, a tough role to retrieve with the graduation of Indiana All-Star Raveen Murray, Morris led her team to a second straight Duneland Athletic Conference title, a sectional championship, and was named The Times' Indiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"This was huge for her to be thrown into the big role, because obviously every team was going to focus on (sophomore Victoria Gaines)," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said, "and Dariyan Morris took every advantage of everything they gave. She wasn't just one-dimensional. She'd hurt you if she could hit the 3, she'd take it to the hole, she'd find the open person. Her game has just improved so much in the matter of a year."
Morris' season -- which statistically included averaging 15.0 points, 2.6 assists and 3.5 steals per game -- came with the pressure of following a team that had set a difficult standard with a 20-0 regular-season 2011-12 record.
That's where Morris excelled, Govert said.
The Pirates coaching staff saw during summer practices how Morris handled the responsibility of being a leader.
"Looking at Dariyan, she was ready, she didn't hesitate at all and she was ready to step up," Govert said. "I think that's what made her so good, was the whole no-fear concept. Nothing phased her she would just continue to play and play hard."
As Merrillville has a history of being a guard-heavy team, defenses quickly keyed on Morris to try to slow down the offense. Again, Morris excelled.
"Once (the season) started a lot of looks I was getting, I did feel like there was pressure on me," Morris said. "After last year, some teams thought they could try anything they wanted on us this year. Whatever they thought of us, we were going to take it and prove them wrong."
With 40 3-pointers, she took the No. 2 spot for most in a regular season in the Pirates history books. She also finishes third all-time in career steals with 183.
"A lot of times you'll have those kids that want to pass the ball off, and Morris wanted the ball, she wanted that shot," Govert said. "I think back to the sectional, in the championship we're going back and forth, and she comes down and just nails a 3, hits it to tie it and we were never down again.
"When she had to, she could create something, she could get the ball into the hands of whoever was open. But she would have taken any one shot if that's what we needed."