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Buford girls ride defense, free throws to 46-34 win over Westover
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Buford’s Pamela Johnson gets fouled by Westover’s Kayla Howard while going up for a layup in Friday's Class AAAA second-round game at Buford. - photo by Erin O. Smith

BUFORD — Buford coach Gene Durden had to get the Lady Wolves back to their “bread and butter” to finally gain the separation they needed against Westover.

After clinging to a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Lady Wolves limited Westover to only three points the rest of the way and hit all 10 of their free throw attempts during the final two minutes of play to pull out a 46-34 victory in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Friday at Buford High School. The Lady Wolves advance to face the St. Pius X-Jonesboro winner in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“I thought we were giving up too many easy shots on our press,” Durden said. “We went back to what we do best, which is our half-court pressure.”

“ ... We just said, hey, we’re going to get down and grind, we’re going to match up with them man to man and we’re going to just make them show that they can score.”

Buford (27-3) has won 19 straight games since a Dec. 29 loss to Southeast Raleigh (N.C.) at the Farm Bureau Insurance Classic tournament in South Carolina.

Camille Anderson led the Lady Wolves in scoring Friday night with 15 points courtesy of five 3-pointers, while Katy Bisges added 11, including six in the fateful fourth quarter.

Bryshea Jackson led Westover (18-9) with 11 points.

Westover, the Region 1 No. 3 seed, appeared to enter the final period with all the momentum after using a 7-0 run to cut Region 8-AAAA No. 1 seed Buford’s lead to 32-31 with 1:15 remaining in the third. Instead, the Lady Patriots were held scoreless until the 1:39 mark of the fourth quarter, a span of 7:36 on the game clock.

Buford struggled to take advantage of the opportunity, however, as a Bisges 3-pointer and free throw accounted for the Lady Wolves’ only points of the final period until Chandler Hall hit a pair of free throws with 1:58 remaining to extend the lead to 38-31.

Buford hit 13 of 14 (93 percent) shots from the free throw line in the second half, including 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter, after failing to get to the line even once in the first half.

“We’ve been talking to our kids so much about putting in extra effort and shooting free throws, and we have done that,” Durden said. “Tonight was a big, big (game for that to pay off). Thirteen of 14, that’s going to give you a chance to win ball games that are tight, and you’re going to play tight ball games in the state tournament.”

The two teams were never separated by more than five points until Anderson hit a 3-pointer with 3:28 remaining in the third period to increase Buford’s lead to 30-24. Corey Staples added a basket that upped the advantage to 32-24 before Westover responded with its 7-0 run.

Anderson, an N.C. State signee, appeared headed for a much bigger night offensively early on after scoring nine points in the opening quarter, including a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining on the clock to put the Lady Wolves on top 16-11 going into the second period.

But Buford’s offense struggled most of the second period, allowing Westover to pull ahead with a brief 20-18 lead. Anderson answered with another 3-pointer with 1:50 left before the half, and Bisges later came away with a steal to extend the Lady Wolves’ lead to 23-20 at halftime.

Meanwhile, St. Pius X (26-3) and Jonesboro (28-1) are scheduled to play Saturday night. If St. Pius X wins, the Lady Golden Lions will travel to Buford on Tuesday. If Jonesboro wins, a coin flip will determine whether the Lady Cardinals host Buford, or vice versa.

Either team would present a formidable challenge for Buford in the state quarterfinals, but Durden acknowledged that there are rarely any bad teams left at this stage of the postseason. It’s all about grinding out victories the rest of the way.

“Everybody says you’ve got to survive and advance, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Durden said.

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