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GAC girls hold on for 38-33 win, face Wesleyan on Friday

ATLANTA -- Neither team involved in the Region 6-AA girls semifinal game between Greater Atlanta Christian and Lovett will be saving the video for their highlight reel.

But the Spartans won't argue with the results.

A big first half by Brianna Cummings was complemented by a huge second half from Cii Cii Buford as GAC rallied from a halftime deficit to score a 38-33 win in a sloppy game Wednesday at Westminster's Turner Gymnasium.

Cummings scored 11 of her 17 points in the first half, while Buford tallied 15 of her 17 points in the second, including a layup on a long inbound pass with six seconds left to help the Spartans (20-6) advance to Friday's 7 p.m. championship game against Wesleyan.

GAC also overcame 18 turnovers and a 37-22 disadvantage on the boards to post its fourth win over Lovett (14-12) this season, though this one turned out to be, by far, the toughest of all.

"This time of year, the name of the game is just to advance," Spartans coach Cal Boyd said. "It's very, very difficult to play a team four times. Having such a small region (of just five teams) has forced us to play over and over. We did play them at a holiday tournament over at Parkview, and it's hard to beat a team four times."

But after GAC beat Lovett in the first three matchups by an average of 15.3 points, the Lions made it clear they were going to make the Spartans work considerably harder Wednesday afternoon, taking as much as a six-point lead in the first half before carrying a 16-15 lead into intermission.

But with both teams having already secured their spots in the Class AA state tournament, Boyd implored his team to calm down.

"Mentally, we've got more to lose, and our girls, I think, at the beginning were a little bit tight." Boyd said.

"But I told them at halftime, 'We're playing Friday (no matter what). So, this isn't a do-or-die game. We're moving on. We just want to play a little bit later on Friday night.'"

The Spartans, and specifically Buford, listened.

The 5-foot-9 senior scored eight of GAC's 12 third-quarter points, all during an 8-2 run midway through the period that vaulted the Spartans from a two-point deficit into a 25-21 lead after Buford's stickback with 3:10 left in the quarter.

The lead reached as much as six points at 30-24 early in the fourth quarter before Lovett tried to rally.

A pair of driving layups by Taylor Brown capped a 7-3 run that pulled the Lions to within 33-31 with 48.5 seconds to play.

But GAC's two leaders on the night came up with clutch plays in the final seconds.

First, Cummings -- who added seven rebounds and seven steals on the night -- hit both ends of a two-shot opportunity at the line to push the lead to 35-31 with 46.4 seconds left.

Buford then connected on 1 of 2 free throws with 19.9 seconds remaining to make the lead 36-31.

But the biggest play came after Te'Erica Eason hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to pull Lovett to within three points again.

Buford broke free from her defender on the inbound, and Sydni Means sent a perfect long pass up the court that the Buford ran down and beat another Lovett defender to the basket for a layup with six seconds left to seal the win for GAC.

The assist was one of six on the night for Means, who also chipped in three steals, while Cosette Mahre also contributed five rebounds and two steals on the evening for the Spartans.

Eason had 11 points to lead Lovett, which will take on Westminster in Friday's 4 p.m. consolation game.

Wesleyan 72, Westminster 35

The host Wildcats took a quick 2-0 lead and trailed just 16-7 after one quarter.

But after a slow start, the Wolves got revved up, outscoring Westminster 20-10 in the second quarter and 35-15 in the third to break the game open and cruise into Friday's championship game opposite GAC.

"We definitely weren't playing like it was a state tournament game in the first half," Wesleyan coach Jan Azar said. "We tried to really get after it coming out of halftime. I was much more pleased with the hustle in the second half."

Katie Frerking led the way for Wesleyan (22-4) with 16 points and seven assists, while Nikki McDonald added 11 points, five rebounds and four steals and Brittany Steven had eight points and two assists.

Andi Carrandi led Westminster (8-19) with 10 points.