ATLANTA — Gasoline is not cheap these days, but it might be well worth the cost to load up and head to Atlanta tonight for some exciting girls basketball.
In what shapes up to be a rubber match, defending state champion Buford will meet cross-county rival GAC in the Region 6-AA finals at Maynard Jackson High School at 7 p.m.
The teams split games during the regular season with each winning at home, so today’s matchup will determine who is best on a neutral court. The winner will also carry additional confidence into the state tournament.
Buford showed its strength by dismantling a solid team from Lovett 56-31 in the first semifinal game Friday night. GAC took down a talented Decatur team 66-32 in the nightcap.
“Lovett is a good team so I thought we played better tonight than our first game,” Buford’s Gene Durden said. “We stepped up on defense with good intensity.”
The Wolves were led by their dynamic duo of juniors Andraya Carter and Kaela Davis. Both finished the game with 17 points and caused havoc with their defense as Buford employed full-court pressure the entire game.
“We get a lot of tips and steals that lead to points with the pressure,” Durden said. “But we like to press more to control the tempo that to force steals.”
The game featured two impressive runs by the Wolves that effectively thwarted any hopes Lovett had of pulling off an upset. Buford started the game with an 11-0 lead but saw Lovett claw back to only trail 26-16 at halftime.
“There were a lot of missed shots from close in late in the first half,” Durden said. “But we shot better in the second half and that helped us a lot.”
Buford heated up in the second half and went on a 15-point run in the third quarter that put the game out of reach. With Lovett scoring the first two of the second half to pull within eight, Davis was fouled and made both free throws to start the run. The next time Lovett scored, Buford had stretched its lead to 41-18.
Besides the combined 34 points of Carter and Davis, the Wolves got 10 from senior Sheresse Williams and six from senior Constance Harrison.
GAC used its tenacious defense to take control of its game early. The Spartans jumped out to a 7-0 lead and then poured it on the rest of the first half to take a 44-14 lead at halftime.
“We set a good tone with our defense,” GAC coach Cal Boyd said. “We held them to only 14 in the first half and that’s good defense. We felt we had our work cut out because Decatur is a good team and we had beaten them twice coming into the game. It is always hard to beat a team three times.”
Decatur came into the game with a 21-6 record — four of those losses to GAC and Buford.
GAC’s offense featured balanced scoring with fabulous freshmen Sidney Means and Brianna Cummings and dependable junior postman Kristina Nelson all notching 15 points. Sophomore guard Shannon Cranshaw added nine.
The final shapes up to be a fierce battle since both teams have dominated their opponents coming into the game. Buford has won its two games by a total of 70 points while the Spartans have scored 84 more than their two opponents.
“Both teams get excited about this game,” Boyd said. “And win or lose, it will help each get better.”