Photo: David McGregor Buford's Kristina Nelson works through a triple team by St. Pius during the third quarter of the Wolves' loss in the Class AAA state quarterfinals on Tuesday night in Buford.
BUFORD --The nation's top-rated sophomore was as good as advertised Tuesday night, good enough to stop Buford from its pursuit of another girls basketball state title.
Asia Durr scored a game-high 32 points, including 9 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter, as St. Pius defeated the host Wolves 56-43 in a Class AAA quarterfinal of state title contenders. The Golden Lions (28-3), who won their 18th straight game, advance into Saturday's semifinals vs. Chapel Hill, while Buford's season ends short of the state finals for the first time since 2008.
St. Pius' 56 points were the most scored against Buford since a 71-57 win over Dawson County on Jan. 8. Most of those were courtesy of Durr, the No. 1 college prospect in the Class of 2015 in the ESPN Hoopgurlz rankings.
"Our game plan was to try to limit (Durr) into the smaller teens (in points)," Buford girls coach Gene Durden said. "She hit jump shot after jump shot. We ran denial defense on her. We ran triangle and two. She made plays. She's a nice player. ... We needed to limit Durr tonight and we didn't do a good job of that."
The undersized Golden Lions had better luck with their mission of keeping Buford's towering frontline of Kristina Nelson (6-foot-4), Mackenzie Darrah (6-4) and Bree Horrocks (6-5) in check.
Nelson had 19 points and nine rebounds, and most of Buford's offensive success came when she was on the floor. But after a shaky offensive foul call on her early in the second quarter, she battled foul trouble throughout.
Darrah had seven points, three rebounds and three assists and Horrocks had four points and a game-high 12 rebounds. The Wolves (24-5) also got nine points from Camille Anderson, but their turnovers were costly all evening --they had 22 to St. Pius' seven.
"We knew we were going to have to limit the big kids' touches," St. Pius girls coach Kyle Snipes said. "We knew we weren't going to be able to stop them from getting the ball in there. We tried to keep kids coming at them from different angles to try to disrupt their posts when they got the ball inside.
"You're not going to keep a kid like Nelson from scoring, from getting hers, but you have to keep (Darrah) and (Horrocks) off the scoreboard as much as possible."
St. Pius led 15-14 after a quarter, but a pair of Anderson 3-pointers, the second with 2:38 left in the first half, put Buford ahead 23-17. The edge at that point could have been larger, but the Wolves' interior players missed repeated baskets around the rim in the early stages.
"We had our chances around the goal and a lot of times when you don't hit shots early you tighten up in state playoff games," Durden said. "We had some chances to make plays early that we didn't make."
Anderson's 3-pointer provided the Wolves' last points of the first half, however.
St. Pius finished the second quarter on a 10-0 run, the last five points by Durr, to switch the momentum for a 27-23 halftime lead. Buford got within a point early in the third quarter when Nelson went out with her third foul.
The Golden Lions led by as many as 10 in the third quarter, but a pair of Nelson baskets late in the third and her three-point play early in the fourth got Buford back within 41-39 with 6:06 left.
But Mill Creek transfer Jasmine Carter (eight points, six rebounds, five assists) scored and Durr followed with a three-point play. From there, Buford never got closer than five points.
"It's a real shame one of us had to leave this early," Snipes said of the matchup of powers. "We're two pretty darn good ball clubs and we've got to meet this early. I really think the state needs to look at how they do the brackets."
While St. Pius moves on, Buford's first season in AAA ends short of where it had been in past seasons. The Wolves won three straight state titles before finishing as state runner-up last year.
"It's just a bad draw," Durden said. "I felt like us and St. Pius were probably both worthy of being in the Final Four or state championship game. But give them credit. They played hard, had a good defensive game plan and hit shots. You've got to hit shots in the state tournament."
Buford graduates an accomplished senior class that played a big part in that recent success -- Nelson, Darrah, Maya Dillard (four points, four assists, four rebounds) and Maggie Walsh.
"Our seniors, they're one of the best groups of seniors we've ever had," Durden said. "They have been foundation players for us. They're great basketball players but more importantly they're great young ladies."