BUFORD -- Early on in their first-round, Class AAA state tournament game against Woodward Academy, Buford's girls had some problems executing their game plan.
Once they did start executing it in the second and third quarters, however, Kristina Nelson and the Wolves were nearly unstoppable.
The 6-foot-4 senior erupted for 18 of her game-high 27 points as Buford broke loose in the middle two frames to pull away for a 56-38 win Tuesday at home.
Nelson and two of Buford's other triple towers -- 6-4 MacKenzie Darrah and 6-5 Bree Horrocks -- proved too much size for the smaller War Eagles (18-10) to deal with as the Wolves (23-4) outscored Woodward 34-15 in the second and third quarters to roll into a second round matchup against Elbert County on Friday.
But it took them a while to get going.
Buford struggled early, committing seven turnovers, holding just a 7-6 rebounding advantage and being tied 10-10 behind five points from Woodward's Tiana Grissom through the end of the first quarter.
"We didn't come out ready to play in the first quarter," Buford coach Gene Durden said. "The next thing you know, we gave them confidence and life, and then we're in a little struggle and battle. The good thing is, we're still able to go through some struggles and still advance while we're trying to grow as a team."
But in the second quarter, the Wolves began to assert their size and strength in the low post and push Woodward out of the lane on both ends of the court.
The biggest contribution came from Nelson, who posted 13 points in the period, eight of which came on layups after lobs from the perimeter over the Woodward zone defense.
After Alex Williams tied the game 15-15 with a foul-line jumper, one of those layups off an assist from Maya Dillard broke the tie 1:58 into the quarter, and ignited a run that saw the Wolves outscore the War Eagles 18-6 over the remaining 6:02 of the first half to head into intermission with a 33-21 lead.
"In the second quarter, we settled down and we played more together," said Nelson, who added eight rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists to her point total on the night. "We just came out slow in the first quarter. We looked panicked and didn't have any energy. ... Coach Durden said if we got inside, they (Woodward) were small and we could really score inside. So, I took that (to heart), and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball."
While the Wolves committed 18 turnovers on the game, they also did a good job of feeding the ball to Nelson on the low block when they weren't turning it over, with 19 team assists, seven by Darrah and six from Dillard.
Dillard fed Nelson and Darrah once each from assists, while Darrah and Camille Anderson each set up Nelson during an 8-0 run over the first 4:51 of the third quarter -- all on points in the paint or in transition -- as Buford build as much as a 20-point lead at 41-21.
And Woodward never got any closer than 14 points the rest of the way, as the Wolves continued their dominance down low.
"We felt like we could control the paint," Durden said. "That's what we're going to have to do be successful in the state tournament. We must control the paint both offensively and defensively with our size."
Buford did so, with Darrah complementing Nelson's big night with 12 points, five rebounds and a block to go with all her assists, while Horrocks contributed two points, five boards and a block.
But it was the smallest starter in the 5-5 Dillard who led Buford with 12 rebounds to go along with four points and her assist total and helped the Wolves own a 39-26 advantage on the glass.
Grissom led Woodward with 11 points, while Williams chipped in nine points and seven rebounds.