Prepared Buford starts tourney strong

BUFORD -- Buford came into Friday night's first-round playoff game against Kendrick with seven losses, by far the most the Wolves have had at the start of the last three state tournaments.

But six of those losses were to nationally ranked teams, and the level of competition Buford faced paid dividends as the Wolves (22-7) posted a 90-40 win over the Cherokees in the first round of the Class AA state tournament.

"No one has played the schedule that we have," said Buford head coach Gene Durden, whose team has won the last three Class AA state titles. "It's made us better because there's no one you can put in front of us that we're scared of. It's something that has helped us in the long run."

Buford received contributions from virtually every player on the roster Friday night. Ten different players scored, led by a 23-point night from Kaela Davis.

The Wolves got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 14-2 margin en route to a 32-10 lead after the first quarter.

Defense played a huge role in opening the first-quarter gap as Buford forced Kendrick into 10 turnovers.

"I thought we did a good job of sharing the ball tonight," Durden said. "A lot of kids contributed."

That trend continued in the second quarter as Buford forced 10 more turnovers, helping to open up a 55-19 lead at the half.

Andraya Carter, who missed part of the season recovering from a knee injury, continued her comeback with a solid all-around game. The Tennessee signee finished with 17 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals.

The Wolves also received a boost with the return of MacKenzie Darrah, who saw her first action since suffering a dislocated hip.

Darrah responded by coming off the bench, chipping in 10 points and three rebounds in three quarters of play.

"Getting (Darrah) back was a great boost for our rotation," Durden said. "When I first saw her injury, I didn't think she would be back. That says a lot about her character and work ethic."

Kendrick came into the game as the fourth seed from Region 5-AA. The Cherokees (17-11) were reeling after having their streak of eight straight region titles snapped last week.

The losses in the last two region tournament games were still evident Friday as the Cherokees fell behind early and never recovered.

"Buford did everything we worked on but we just didn't make the plays," Cherokee head coach Sterling Hicks said. "We just lost to a good team."

Khalia Lawrence was one bright spot for Kendrick on offense as she led her team with 20 points and seven rebounds. Offensive support dropped off after her performance, though, as the next leading scorer was Deja Cheatham with six points.

Buford got nine points from Bree Horrocks and eight from Emily Adams.

"We got some of our young kids in tonight and got to rest some of our legs," Durden said. "That's important for us this time of the year."

The win puts Buford (22-7) into the second round where it will host North Oconee on Tuesday.