Photo by Christine Troyke
NORCROSS -- No one had come closer than 15 points to the No. 1-ranked Buford girls in their first 10 victories, leaving coach Gene Durden perplexed.
"For the first time in my 22 years of coaching, I really didn't know this far into the season what we had as a team," Durden said. "I just didn't know, because we hadn't been challenged."
Now the defending Class AA champs have, thanks to Greater Atlanta Christian.
Twice fighting back from 10-point deficits, the No. 6-ranked Spartans took a brief lead in the fourth quarter before Buford regained control for a 50-43 victory Tuesday night at GAC's Long Forum.
The Wolves closed the game on a 12-3 run to overcome a 40-38 deficit and improved 11-0 overall and 4-0 in Region 6-AA.
"We really needed this," Durden said. "To have a game like this was huge for us."
Only two of Buford's first 10 opponents had come within 20 points of the Wolves. But GAC, 10-3 overall and 3-1 in 6-AA, gave Buford all it could handle despite an off night shooting by senior standout Chaney Means.
Means, headed to Western Kentucky, scored just three points, making only one of her 12 shots. But the Spartans kept battling back as freshman center Kristina Nelson showed off her potential with 13 points and senior Clarke Boards scored 11.
With Georgia coach Andy Landers watching from the front row, Buford super sophomore Andraya Carter had a relatively quiet game by her standards with 13 points, six assists and four rebounds.
But Alysha Rudnik, more noted for her softball ability, had a big effort for the Wolves with 13 points and nine rebounds.
"She's a winner," Durden said of the Georgia Tech recruit. "She's a competitor and a leader. She was huge for us and we needed her to be in this game."
Down 23-13 after a 10-2 Buford run, GAC scored 10 straight points in the second quarter to tie the game just before halftime. Ayana Ward, though, hit two free throws on a one-and-one with 6.4 seconds left to give the Wolves a 25-23 lead at intermission.
Buford was 4 of 8 on 3-pointers in the first half, with Joyclyn Kinnsey hitting two.
Buford began the third quarter with a 10-2 run and again led by 10. Once more, GAC wouldn't quit.
The Spartans took the lead on a basket by freshman Peyton Whitted and it was 40-38 after a free throw by Nelson. Buford scored the next 10 points, however. Rudnik had four of the points during the streak and Carter was 4-for-5 at the foul line down the stretch.
"We'd played only once since Christmas vacation and that hurt us," GAC coach Cal Boyd said. "I wish we could have played those two games that got snowed out. But we kept battling and did some good things."
Buford gets another big challenge on Saturday, playing Class AAAA power Southwest DeKalb in a showcase event at GAC that also features a game between the Spartans and Class AAAAA unbeaten Parkview.
"We need as many tough games right now as we can get," Durden said. "That's the only way you find out how good you really are."