BUFORD -- Buford's girls were hardly hitting on all cylinders for their first-round game of the Class AA state tournament against Model.
Fortunately for the Wolves, their trademark defense helped keep the visiting Blue Devils at arm's length in the first half before triggering a third-quarter run that blew the game open and sent Buford to the second round with a 63-43 win Saturday.
"We had trouble scoring starting out," said Buford coach Gene Durden, whose Wolves (25-4) will take on either Crawford County or Walnut Grove in the second round Wednesday night. "It kind of affected our kids mentally. But we kept fighting and relied on what we've relied on all year -- our defense."
Andraya Carter finished with a game-high 22 points, plus six rebounds and five steals, while Alysha Rudnik added 15 points.
But defense was the difference as the Wolves forced the visiting Blue Devils (16-12) into 41 turnovers.
"We haven't faced the kind of pressure that Buford brings all year," Model coach Sally Echols said. "(Buford) persevered and continued to wear on us. We responded in the first and second quarters, but we didn't respond as well in the third quarter. That was the difference."
In fact, Model committed 22 turnovers in the opening 16 minutes -- 12 in the second quarter alone.
But Buford couldn't take full advantage due to poor shooting, including at least three missed layups and a paltry 2 of 9 free-throw shooting. The Wolves finished the game a dismal 3 of 19 at the line.
That allowed Model to stay close and the Blue Devils did a better job of hitting their shots when they were able to get them away.
Buford's lead was only 14-11 after the first quarter after Karlee Akin beat the buzzer with a half-court heave.
And when Akin hit a pair of free throws, Model was within 20-17 with just 1:22 left in the first half.
Fortunately for the Wolves, Carter was hitting her shots.
The 5-foot-8 sophomore connected on a 3-pointer with 1:07 left in the half and then finished a 7-1 run with a pullup jumper from the foul line to beat the buzzer and sent Buford into intermission with a 27-18 lead.
But it was the third quarter in which the Wolves fully came to life, especially Carter and Rudnik.
Carter hit another jumper and a stickback in the opening 42 seconds of the second half.
The latter was off a steal by Rudnik, who also added a layup and a 3-pointer to cap a run of nine straight Buford points over the opening 1:48 of the third quarter that stretched the lead to 36-18.
"We didn't feel like we played as strong as we could have in the first half," Rudnik said. "We wanted to come out and hit them hard like we should have in the first half and finish our shots."
Model, which got a team-high 12 points from Akin and 10 more from Timia Reynolds, never came any closer than 16 points the rest of the way.