MACON —If Buford’s girls had anything to prove this season, it’s that there’s no need to rebuild when the foundation is strong.
After graduating eight seniors and four starters from the 2009 state championship team in Class AA, the Lady Wolves were hard-pressed to envision the same ending in 2010.
“When the season started nobody thought we could win it again, and we didn’t think we would be able to either,” said Buford sophomore Andraya Carter, the lone returning full-time starter.
As it turns out, the combination of Carter and a group of hard-nosed seniors that had waited in the wings for the Lady Wolves would still have plenty in the tank to get it done.
On Saturday, Carter scored 20 points with eight rebounds to lead Buford to a 50-38 win over Vidalia in the Class AA state championship game at the Macon Centreplex.
“This one might be sweeter this season,” said Carter, who scored those 20 points against a Vidalia defense that was only allowing 40 points per game this season. “I’ve told the team all season that if we do what the coaches say, we’ll be fine.”
Buford’s coach was glad his players listened.
“These seniors this year wanted their turn to win a state championship and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “They worked so hard and sacrificed to get us to another state title.
“We’re certainly going to enjoy this one for a while.”
Buford (29-4) wanted to jump to a big lead early and did just that by scoring 20 points in the first quarter, and building an 11-point lead, while forcing Vidalia (31-1) into eight first-quarter turnovers.
The Lady Wolves owned the first half and took control of the game with Carter’s nine first-quarter points and 13 in the first half. And whatever Buford did — on offense or defense — Carter had a hand in it.
Carter hit a 3-pointer to give the Lady Wolves a 16-2 lead with 3:52 still left to play in the first quarter. She also drove the lane for an uncontested layup on Buford’s next possession to keep the lead at 14.
Of course, Carter, already a major Division I prospect, also has an eye for finding her open teammate. With only 58 seconds left in the opening quarter, she fired the ball to an open Lacey Pass (eight points) for an open layup and took a 20-9 lead.
“We knew we had to start fast,” Carter said. “We did that and it took them out of their game.”
Buford’s aggressive offensive style and rebounding, which created multiple shots on each possession, was the reason for its success against the Lady Indians’ defense. Vidalia finished the game with 19 turnovers.
“I think our half-court defense kind of stunned them and took them out of their game,” Durden said.
Also, the Lady Wolves got a glimpse of freshman McKenzie Darrah’s potential and the way she can use her 6-foot-3 frame to an advantage. Buford found Darrah inside for a layup underneath the basket late in the second quarter, then she reciprocated the favor with a toss inside for a basket by Carter with only 1:35 left in the half that made the score 29-15.
After halftime, and a quick 3-pointer from Carter, the Lady Wolves hammered away at Vidalia’s defense and found two quick baskets inside from junior Sheresse Williams (10 points).
Despite the big 14-point lead in the first quarter, and quick start to the second half by Buford, Durden knew not to take Vidalia lightly.
The same Lady Indians’ team that trailed Greater Atlanta Christian by 18 in the first half of Thursday’s state semifinal game, also put a move on Buford with a six-point run in the third quarter to get as close as 42-32 before the end of the period.
That’s when Alysha Rudnik stepped in with a steal that she finished with a layup, along with a layup on a pass underneath to open the fourth quarter – her first four points of the game.
Olivia Coleman led Vidalia with 11 points and Kourtnee Williams added nine. Shekinah Henry had five points and 15 rebounds for the Lady Indians.