BUFORD — To an outside observer, the demeanor of the Buford girls basketball team might be off-putting.
Their palms aren’t sweaty, their eyes aren’t wide heading into tonight’s quarterfinal matchup with Rabun County. Instead they’re jovial, loose and sure.
“We’re not cocky,” senior Blanche Alverson said. “But we know that if we play the way we should, we’ll be all right.
“On this team, everyone has everyone else’s best interest at heart. Because of that and the way we push each other in practice, we feel good about things.”
The unspoken confidence doesn’t stem from having a roster of veterans and it isn’t a by-product of a region championship, No. 1 ranking or 29-1 record. The Lady Wolves are at the end of a trickle-down effect that begins with coach Gene Durden, who has coached in 12 state quarterfinal and three state championship games.
The confidence is simply a result of comfort.
“We have a veteran coaching staff that has been in state tournament situations numerous times,” Durden said. “We know how to prepare the kids.”
That preparation has meant a slight shift in focus for Buford, known for its stifling full-court press that contributes to the Lady Wolves giving up just 34 points per game.
“We think to win state you have to do three things extremely well,” Durden said. “You have to be great on the boards, play great half-court defense and have great half-court execution.
“Right now our practices have shifted to focus on those three areas along with shooting and special situations.”
Don’t take the mention of winning a state title to mean that Buford is overlooking Rabun County, or any team for that matter. The Lady Wolves are just intent on a particular goal.
“We’re relaxed and taking it one game at a time,” Buford senior forward Jocelyn Danley said. “That’s when we play our best.”
The Lady Wolves know that Rabun County (25-3) is scrappy, fundamentally sound and will use an intense full-court pressure to try and coax opponents into mistakes.
They know that the Lady Wildcats, who average 61 points per game to Buford’s 60, can score.
But they also know that intangibles play as big a part in the state tournament as offensive and defensive schemes.
“We know we’ve got to play harder than they do,” Buford freshman Andraya Carter said. “We know we’re going to have to want it more than they do.”
There’s one other bit of Lady Wolves’ knowledge, and it might be the deciding factor in the team making the program’s third trip to the state semifinals.
The game is not the hard part, it’s the fun part.
“Any time you coach female athletes, they must have fun to be successful,” Durden said. “We work so hard at practice, that the fun is playing.
“They have their fun when they’re turned loose and able to show what they can do.”
If that’s the case, Buford must be having a blast in the playoffs.
The Lady Wolves beat their first two state opponents, Callaway and Coosa, by an average of 25.5 points. Against Callaway, 12 players scored for Buford. Against Coosa, that number was cut in half.
Consistently leading the way throughout has been Alverson (24 points per game in playoffs), Carter (15 ppg.) and Danley (11 ppg.).
“(Coach Durden’s attitude) and him wanting the game to be fun makes it a lot easier,” Carter said. “It takes a lot of pressure off and we can just go play.”