Buford boys capture first-ever state title
ATHENS — The Buford girls basketball team completed its dominant run to the Class AAAAA state championship with yet another lopsided victory.
The No. 1 Lady Wolves pulled away from second-ranked Southwest DeKalb, the defending Class AAAAA champion, for a 60-42 win Wednesday here at the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum.
It went down as Buford’s fifth state championship, all of which have come since 2009.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Lady Wolves’ closest win was a 77-56 triumph at Warner Robins in the quarterfinals Feb. 28. Buford (29-2) won its first four postseason games by an average of 33 points, blazing a path through the playoffs that rivaled only one of coach Gene Durden’s other squads.
“Our first state championship team was a very dominant team,” Durden said. “But this team is about as dominant as they were. … This crew is right up there with them, there’s no doubt about it. They played the way they did in the state tournament, and they’re one of the best teams in the state of Georgia in any classification.”
Junior guard Tory Ozment scored a game-high 18 points while contributing seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.
“It’s indescribable. It’s amazing,” Ozment said of winning the state championship. “I think all the hard work that we put in, all the blood, sweat and tear, it’s all worth it.”
The Lady Wolves forced 18 turnovers while limiting Lady Panthers senior forward Jada Walton, a Texas A&M signee, to just 13 points.
Durden heaped praise on senior forward Marissa Bruce for locking down on Walton, who had scored a combined 50 points during the Lady Panthers’ last two games.
“When Marissa was on her, she had a hard time scoring,” the coach said. “That’s something that a lot of people don’t see. It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. That’s a job that a lot of times doesn’t get any credit, but we wouldn’t be here without that.”
Southwest DeKalb (27-5), which edged Flowery Branch 66-63 in the semifinals to return to the state championship game, scored the first basket of the night when Walton hit a short jumper just five seconds into the game.
That was the Lady Panthers’ first and only lead.
Buford’s trademark press forced four turnovers as part of a 9-0 run over the next four minutes. The stretch was emblematic of the Lady Wolves’ entire season, during which their relentless press and often unrivaled depth led to a slew of blowout victories.
“We have 10 or 12 people versus their five, and I think that’s really special,” Ozment said. “Not many teams have that, so that what makes us really dominant.”
Southwest DeKalb, however, managed to keep its deficit to just 16-13 after the first quarter. Even after Ozment hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second period, the Lady Panthers clawed back into a three-point game.
But the junior guard sparked a game-changing, 10-2 run to end the first half, dishing out assists on three straight baskets before slicing to the hoop for a layup with six seconds left.
“Tory is just a unique kid, being a 6-foot point guard,” Durden said. “She’s got long arms, and she’s so versatile. She can do so many things. … She’s a tough matchup no matter how you defend her.”
Buford’s press created the final bit of separation needed, creating turnovers on the first three Lady Panthers possessions of the second half. Ozment sank another 3-pointer, part of a 4 for 7 performance from behind the arc, to put the Lady Wolves ahead 39-23 with about six minutes to go in the third quarter.
From there, it was business as usual for Buford.
The Lady Wolves led by double digits for the entire second half and turned away a few Southwest DeKalb rallies as their lead ballooned. Central Florida signee Ogheneruona Uwusiaba grabbed a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Lady Panthers, whose lack of depth showed down the stretch.
Buford had eight players record eight or more minutes, along with nine who made at least one shot.
“Our depth and our versatility is so key to this team,” Durden said. “We have so many kids that are weapons — they can shoot it, drive it, handle it and rebound it. It’s really hard to defend us because we have so many kids that can do stuff.”