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Buford, North Hall counting on defense to win in Macon
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Buford High’s Andraya Carter works out with teammates during a January practice in the school’s gymnasium.

Thursday

Class AA Semifinals

Laney girls vs. Lovett, 4 p.m.

Jordan boys vs. Laney, 5:30 p.m.

Brooks County girls vs. Buford, 7 p.m.

Manchester boys vs. Vidalia, 8:30 p.m.

Friday

Class AAA Semifinals

North Hall girls vs. Washington County, 4 p.m.

Washington boys vs. Drew, 5:30 p.m.

Columbia girls vs. Westside, Augusta, 7 p.m.

Columbia boys vs. Eagle’s Landing, 8:30 p.m.

Buford senior Andraya Carter is not concerned with being much of a scorer in the Lady Wolves run at a fourth consecutive Class AA state title.

The University of Tennessee signee said she will be working in the offseason to improve her offense as she continues to recover from a partial tear in her Anterior Cruciate Ligament, an injury that kept her on the bench the first half of the season.

But she knows that Buford has enough scorers, including junior Kaela Davis and Kristina Nelson, to win games.

So Carter focuses on what she can control — defense.

“The offensive skill part is still not there, but we have Kaela and Kristina who score the basketball very well,” Carter said. “My role is to bring a defensive energy to the team.”

Since her return, the Lady Wolves (24-7) have allowed an average of just 33.4 points per game as Carter brings her defensive intensity, as well as her various other intangibles, to the floor.

“The impact Andraya has had on our team coming back this year is unbelievable. The intangibles she brings to our team can not be measured. Her leadership, experience, toughness and work habits are things you want your team to have and by adding her back into the mix, our team has jumped to another level,” said Buford coach Gene Durden. “She has been apart of our previous three state championships and with her back on the team, this team has a better chance of making it four in a row.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Carter and the Lady Wolves will have a chance to reach a fourth-straight title game when they play Brooks County (24-6) in the semifinals at the Macon Centreplex. Carter will once again lead a defensive effort looking to keep a fourth consecutive state tournament opponent under 50 points, a feat accomplished by last season’s squad throughout the successful state run.

The next day, on the same floor, North Hall’s girls will be trying to continue its surprising run in the state tournament.

Like Brooks County, the Lady Trojans (24-7) will be trying to knock off the defending champs, a Washington County team (30-0) that has won 62 consecutive games.

Like Buford, North Hall has a senior who will try to make a difference primarily on the defensive end of the floor.

“Its not a very glamorous job, but it’s something that coaches love,” said North Hall coach Kristi House. “Good teams have to be good defensively.”

Guard Tiffany Hamilton is the Lady Trojans’ defensive specialist. Like Carter, her abilities transcend end-of-game statistics.

“We knew she had athletic ability,” House said. “That experience at the varsity level and that heart to play defense really turned her into a good defensive player.”

In the quarterfinals against Allatoona, Hamilton held the opposition's best player in check until the game was nearly out of reach late in the fourth.

At 4 p.m. Friday, she will be tasked with defending, or at least helping to defend, last season’s Class AAA Player of the year, 5-foot-11 junior Allisha Gray, who is averaging 32 points per game this season.

Hamilton’s ready for the challenge.

“I’m very ready,” she said. “I really like playing defense — I like frustrating people.”

Like Carter, Hamilton could score if she wanted to, having scored 11 to lead North Hall to a win over Franklin County earlier in the season. But North Hall has an abundance of scoring threats in Mary Kate and McKenna Rushton, Taylor Swoszowski and others, and Hamilton knows her role.

“I’ve always had a defensive role. I knew coming into the program that if I put a lot of effort into defense that I would get a lot of minutes” she said. “We have plenty of other people that can score.”

So Hamilton leaves the scoring up to the others and puts her effort into making her opponents’ work for every shot.

Like Carter, she focuses on what she can control.

But, while Hamilton has been able to do it all season, Carter is just happy to finally be able to play again after so much time on the sidelines.

“Watching from the sidelines is a whole different leading experience,” the Buford senior said. “It was hard because I wanted to be out there with them.”

When she returned to the floor, starting in January with a game at home against Westminster, she knew she could once again be a disruptive force for opponents.

“I felt like I was moving real well,” she said. “The only hard thing was that my skills were rusty, I couldn’t put any extra time in.”

But Carter knew she could bring the effort that she needed to play defense as well as she’s able.

“All I can do is play as hard as I can,” she said. “My biggest contribution is energy, playing full speed, playing as hard as I can for as long as I can.”

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