The Buford High girls basketball team began the 2014-15 season with a sense of unfinished business after losing to St. Pius X in the state title game last year.
Even numerous injuries couldn’t stop the Lady Wolves from chasing down their lofty goals. The Lady Wolves, led by Region 8-AAAA Player of the Year Camille Anderson, earned the Class AAAA state championship with a 35-34 victory against Carrollton on March 5.
Coach Gene Durden said some of his most special memories in 27 years of coaching happened with this group. He pointed out that it was more about Buford’s mindset than supreme talent.
“This team had to fight through a lot,” Durden said.
The Lady Wolves finished with a 30-3 record and earned a Region 8-AAAA championship with a team that in one three-game stretch played without a true post player.
For his efforts, Durden is The Times’ All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
One result of Buford’s long list of injuries was players having to adjust to different roles, particularly leading scorer Anderson often serving as point guard.
“That’s what makes me so proud is whatever we asked of this team, they did,” Durden said.
The coach said the 2013-14 team’s seniors laid a foundation by coming so close to winning a state title. A near-miss against St. Pius X in last season’s finale was fuel for the 2014-15 group’s fire.
That’s part of the reason the Lady Wolves’ 59-55 victory against St. Pius X in this year’s quarterfinals was such a shot in the arm. Anderson’s season-high 33 points allowed Buford to advance in spite of Asia Durr, the nation’s No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, pouring in 40 points for the Golden Lions on Feb. 24.
“That definitely gives you a boost of confidence that you can do what you need to do,” Durden said. “What we had to do is convince the girls that was not the state championship. We had two more games to play.”
Buford took care of those final two games, beating Fayette County and Carrollton en route to the championship.
But a much earlier turning point for the Lady Wolves came in a 54-53 win against eventual Class AA state champion Wesleyan on Dec. 12 after trailing most of the game. That triumph came after consecutive losses at Morgan County and at home against eventual Class A private champion St. Francis in overtime.
“Our tough schedule really prepared us for any and everything that we had to do in the playoffs,” Durden said.
The coach said his senior class of Anderson, Corey Staples, Katy Bisges, Lane Crawford and Nyse Bruce helped Buford persevere through the adversity it faced.
Defensive pressure was a constant for the Lady Wolves, who Durden said excelled in full-court press and half-court defense. Buford surrendered 50 or more points just three times in 33 outings.
The Lady Wolves also had variety in their victories. They led 7-3 at halftime of a 26-10 region championship victory against Chestatee, but they were also able to go up and down in knocking off St. Pius X.
Durden has four state titles and six championship game appearances in 10 seasons at Buford. He pointed out that multiple players had career nights along the way for the Lady Wolves.
“It proves that basketball is still a team, chemistry-based game,” said Durden, adding that this wasn’t one of his most talented teams. “That makes me probably as proud as anything because it shows me what they’re made of and how they relied on each other as a team.”
The disappointment of 2014 was always on the Buford players’ radars, and they used it to make sure 2015 had a different finish.
“That was the main goal of this team,” Durden said. “They wanted a state championship.”