BUFORD — The Buford seniors wanted to go out with a flourish with their final home game on Wednesday night, and while it may not have been the prettiest game to watch, the outcome was undeniable.
Behind another smothering defensive effort, Buford overcame a bit of a slow start of its own and outmuscled Woodward Academy 62-45 in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state playoffs.
The win propelled the Wolves (29-2) to the Final Four, where it will face the Johnson of Savannah-Pike County winner on Saturday afternoon at Georgia College in Milledgeville.
“Last year, we were stopped in the Elite Eight but we made it to the Final Four,” Buford guard Camille Anderson said. “This was also our last home game and we wanted to go out with a win.”
Along with the berth in the Final Four, Wednesday’s win also marked another accomplishment for Buford as the Wolves played 19 home games this season with all of them Buford victories.
“I am just tickled to death for these girls,” Buford head coach Gene Durden said. “These girls have come in and changed our culture in getting back to playing so hard. We have a great group of seniors that has led us and helped us through with the changes we made.”
That hard work paid dividends on the defensive side as Buford harassed the War Eagles all night, forcing Woodward Academy (20-11) into 30 turnovers. Those extra possessions for Buford led to several easy baskets, especially in the second half.
“We hadn’t pressed much lately and we wanted to do that tonight so we could convert those into points,” Anderson said, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Woodward Academy, the No. 2 seed out of Region 6-AAA, also did a nice job with its defense in the first half by forcing Buford into commiting 14 turnovers.
That led to a slow start for both squads with Buford leading 11-4 after the first quarter.
With its offense struggling, Anderson finally kick started things for the Wolves with 10 points in the second quarter, including a 10-3 run to start the second for Buford.
Anderson was also able to get Bree Horrocks going on offense by feeding the 6-foot-5 senior down low. Horrocks added seven points in the second as the Wolves carried a 32-16 lead into the locker room at the break.
The War Eagles came out in the second half and opened the third with a 7-4 edge to get within 13 at 36-23, but Horrocks scored six quick points to lead Buford on a 10-0 run to go back up 46-23.
Again, turnovers were a big factor in the third as Woodward commited six more, while Buford coughed it up only three times.
“We’ve got a large group of seniors but we also have some inexperienced kids and sometimes they get rattled a little bit,” Durden said. “We tried to calm them down and they did what we wanted them to do (in the second half) and created a lot scoring opportunities.”
“We’ve survived on our defense and these kids are sold out on what we want them to do. They’ve given us a chance to win even when our offense isn’t clicking.”
Alexandria Williams, who led Woodward with 12 points and eight rebounds, scored five of those in the third and led a late charge that saw the War Eagles end the period with an 8-2 run to cut the deficit to 48-31.
But as it had all night, Buford answered with an even bigger surge, opening the fourth with a 10-0 run to pull away for good.
Horrocks ended the night as the game’s top scorer, finishing with 24 points while adding seven rebounds and two steals.
“Horrocks played one of her best offensive games tonight,” Durden said. “She did a real good job of getting to her spots and hitting the mid-range jumper.”