BUFORD—The Buford girls basketball team looked no further than Kristina Nelson for a successful start to the Class AAA state tournament.
The 6-foot-3 Nelson scored a team-high 27 points, dominating first-round opponent Woodward Academy at the post to lead the top-seeded Lady Wolves over the No. 4 seed Lady War Eagles 56-38 on Tuesday in Buford.
The Notre Dame signee scored 13 of her points in the second quarter, as Buford (23-4) shook off a rough first quarter to advance to the second round of state playoffs. The Lady Wolves will host Elbert County on Friday, after the Lady Blue Devils defeated North Murray in the first round.
“In the first quarter, I didn’t play like I normally do,” Nelson said. “I settled down, and just played basketball.”
Buford was tied 10-10 with Woodward Academy (18-11) after one period of play, struggling to establish the identity that made the Lady Wolves the Region 7-AAA champions this season. All it took was one quarter to regain focus before the shots began to fall.
Buford outscored Woodward Academy 23-11 in the second quarter, as Nelson quickly took over the contest. She scored seven consecutive points to open the quarter, then added six more to give her team its first double-digit lead of the night when the Lady Wolves jumped ahead 27-17.
With a 33-21 lead at halftime, Buford continued to feed the ball to Nelson and the lead continued to grow. She scored 12 points in the second half as Buford remained uncontested the rest of the way.
“When Kristina gets in position, she has such good scoring touch and she does a great job scoring around the blocks,” Lady Wolves coach Gene Durden said. “We felt like we controlled the paint, and that’s what we’re going to have to do to best successful in the state tournament.”
Buford was able to repair its early deficiencies in the third quarter, when the Lady Wolves outscored Woodward Academy 11-4. The Lady War Eagles were held scoreless in the period until the 2:18 mark, at which they point they trailed 41-23.
A more conservative Buford team allowed Woodward Academy to score a game-best 13 points in the fourth quarter, including three consecutive 3-pointers to open the period. The Lady Wolves kept pace with 12 points of their own, including another six by Nelson.
“We did a good job of sticking the ball into the post, but we just didn’t play good possession basketball,” Durden said. “The good thing right now is this: we’re able to go through some struggles and still advance while we’re trying to grow as a team.”
Woodward Academy’s only lead of the game was early in the first quarter, when Tiana Grissom hit a 3-pointer to give the Lady War Eagles a 5-4 lead. She finished the game as her team’s leading scorer with 11 points.
Nelson pulled down eight rebounds to go along with her stellar offensive night, but leading rebounder honors went to Buford point guard Maya Dillard, who despite her small size pulled down 12 boards.
“Maya is an exceptional athlete that has really done a good job for us on the boards,” Durden said. “She’s one of the best rebounding point guards we’ve had.”
On the flip side, it was one of the Lady Wolves’ better rebounders that served as the best feeder of the game, as 6-foot-4 forward MacKenzie Darrah racked up seven assists.
Alex Williams led Woodward with six rebounds.