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Wolves headed back to Final 4
Wesleyan girls earn their seventh trip to semifinals

ROME - Buford learned a painful lesson in its Class AA state quarterfinal game against Wesleyan.

If you have the state's No. 1-ranked team down, don't let them back up.

That's exactly what happened Saturday, and given the opportunity, Wesleyan made Buford pay by getting 21 points from Erin Hall and forcing 38 turnovers on defense in cruising to a 64-42 victory at The Forum.

Wesleyan (28-3) advances to the Final Four for the seventh time in the last eight years despite hitting just one field goal and being outrebounded by Buford 15-5 in the first quarter.

But despite their youth, the Wolves didn't panic.

"We've gone through this before where a team has stayed with us or even took a lead on us in the first quarter," Wesleyan coach Jan Azar said. "But we know if we stay with our plan to pressure and run, we feel like we'll be able to make it through four quarters, and we'll be OK."

Buford (25-7) did more than an OK defensive job in the first quarter, forcing Wesleyan into poor shooting and taking as much as an 8-3 lead after Blanche Alverson's stickback with 4:08 left in the opening frame.

The news seemed to get even better for the Wolves when Anne Marie Armstrong went to the bench with 3 minutes left in the quarter saddled with foul trouble that would plague her the whole game.

But Buford could not take advantage. In fact, the Wolves found it difficult to even get a shot off.

They committed 10 first-quarter turnovers and managed just one shot after Alverson's basket to keep the lead at just 8-3 at the end of the period.

"We didn't keep our heads and we didn't keep our poise and let them force us into a lot of turnovers," Buford coach Gene Durden said. "We had our opportunities. If we ... capitalize and the end of the first quarter and don't turn the ball over, we had a chance (to open up a big lead)."

That lost opportunity would come back to haunt Buford as Wesleyan - and specifically Hall - began to heat up in the second quarter, while Buford's turnover count continued to mount.

"We really weren't panicking," Hall said. "We just said, 'OK, it's time to step up now.'"

Hall followed a free throw by Grace Leah Baughn with consecutive 3-pointers to ignite a 15-0 run that vaulted Wesleyan into an 18-8 lead after Aysia McKenzie's 3-pointer with 4:22 left in the first half.

"It was like someone lifted the whole world off my shoulders," Hall said of her 3-pointers. "I said, 'OK, we're ready now.'"

Jocelyn Danley finally ended a Buford drought that totaled 8:08 spanning the first two quarters with her layup with exactly 4 minutes left in the half.

It also sparked a brief run in which Buford could actually hold onto the ball, leading to an 8-3 run that cut Wesleyan's lead to 21-16 after a free throw by Alysha Rudnik with 2:07 left in the half.

But Wesleyan's full-court press was relentless and forced Buford into 15 second-quarter turnovers.

And the Wolves took advantage, outscoring Buford 10-1 over the final 1:34 of the half - keyed by five points from Baughn - that ended a 28-9 second quarter and left Wesleyan with a 31-17 lead at intermission.

Buford did a little better job of handling the ball in the second half, committing only 13 turnovers.

And a 6-2 run over the opening 2:25 of the third quarter helped the Wolves make a little run, cutting Wesleyan's lead to as little as 33-23 after a pair of Abby Johnson free throws with 5:35 left in the quarter.

However, McKenzie stopped that momentum with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, igniting a 13-2 run that pushed Wesleyan's lead to 46-25 and the Wolves never looked back.

McKenzie finished with 11 points and Baughn joined her and Hall in double figures with 10, while Chantel Kennedy had another strong game with eight points, four assists and five steals.

Johnson led Buford with 16 points, while Danley added eight and Alverson chipped in seven points and nine rebounds.