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Smothering defense lifts Buford past Heard Co. and into Final Four

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Buford's Kaela Davis (3) celebrates her score during the 2012 Georgia High School Association girls basketball state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton on Friday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Buford's Kaela Davis (3) celebrates her score during the 2012 Georgia High School Association girls basketball state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton on Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Buford's Kallie Case (2) drives to the basket against Heard County's La'Rice Walker (10) during the 2012 Georgia High School Association girls basketball state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton on Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Buford's Emily Adams (50) drives to the basket against Heard County's Aaliyah Rutledge (5) during the 2012 Georgia High School Association girls basketball state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton on Friday.

DALTON -- Buford's outing in its Class AA state quarterfinal game against Heard County was hardly its cleanest on offense this season.

But despite 28 turnovers, the No. 2 state-ranked Wolves were still able to roll.

They held the Braves to just three field goals in the first half and 13 for the game, while Kaela Davis and Kallie Case were able to give them enough offense to build a big lead before pulling away in the third quarter for a 65-43 victory Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.

Davis finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Case added 12 points as the three-time defending state champions advanced to their fourth straight Final Four next week in Macon, where they will take on the winner of today's quarterfinal between Brooks County and Putnam County in Savannah.

But while Davis, Case and MacKenzie Darrah (10 points) all scored in double figures, Buford got production throughout the lineup, with 11 of 13 players who took the floor breaking into the scoring column, and other players contributing in other ways, like Andraya Carter, who finished with four points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals despite playing with a dislocated shoulder.

And it was on the defensive end that the Wolves (24-7) did much of their damage Friday.

"I thought our defense was really good," Buford coach Gene Durden said. "They (Heard County) have a team that attacks the rim, but (defense) was the key to the whole thing. That turned the tide."

The Wolves were a bit sloppy in the first half, committing 12 first-quarter turnovers and 17 overall.

And Heard County (24-4) was able to build a 5-4 lead behind a three-point play from La'Rice Walker and two free throws from Aaliyah Rutledge over the first 1:32 of the game.

However, Buford made up for their sloppiness with some good work on their defensive end, forcing the Braves into 11 first-half turnovers, and holding the Braves scoreless for a 5:19 span of the first quarter.

Davis scored six of her 12 first-half points in that stretch, during which Buford ran off 11 straight points to turn a 5-2 deficit into a 13-5 lead following MacKenzie Darrah's free throw with 1:25 left in the opening frame.

"It was just a slow start," Davis said. "I think we were just trying to rush into things. We saw things (open) and we wanted them to happen so quickly. I think once everyone saw, 'Hey, we can get the shots if we just take our time,' that's when everything kind of slowed down and we were able to do our thing."

The Wolves continued the strong defensive effort, holding Heard County to just one field goal in the second quarter and three for the entire half.

And a late run of four straight points in the final 1:13 of the half, sparked when Carter fed Darrah for a 3-pointer from the top of the key before tapping in an offensive rebound with 5 seconds left to send the Wolves into intermission with their biggest lead to that point at 28-14.

That momentum carried over into the third quarter as Davis finished a stickback and added a pair of free throws to spark an 8-3 run over the opening 3:17 of the third quarter to push the lead to 36-17 after Case's transition layup with 4:43 left in the period.

And the momentum only built, with Darrah scoring four points and dishing out two assists as Buford outscored Heard County 19-9 in the quarter to build its advantage to 47-23, and the Wolves were able to cruise into the Final Four.

Walker and Jemeka Parks each scored 14 points to lead Heard County, while the Braves also got a double-double from Rutledge with 11 points and 12 rebounds.