It’s still early. But that doesn’t mean this week’s lineup of high school basketball games should be overlooked.
This is the time of year where the who’s who of playoff contenders bear their true form as others begin to turn the corner. Region play has officially commenced.
Fans get their first helping of region play this week, and Friday night, a showdown of two giants in the 8-5A — Score Atlanta’s No. 1 ranked Buford hosting No. 2 Flowery Branch — inside the Buford City Arena.
Chestatee, East Hall, North Hall, Lakeview Academy, Riverside Military Academy and West Hall are others to dive into their region slates this week.
The Lady Falcons (5-1, 1-0 Region 8-5A) continue their region slate at Loganville tonight before their primetime clash Friday night. The last meeting between the two came down to a late Buford rally in January. The Lady Falcons will have a chance to snap that skid this Friday night and get the early jump on their neighboring rivals.
Both squads took their 8-5A openers last week, though an unexpected winter storm to blow through much of north Georgia resulted in school closings and cancellations of various athletic events in the metro Atlanta area.
Buford was one of the many affected by the snowy episode as a pair of scheduled non-region contests, including Class 6A Norcross (No. 4 per Score Atlanta), were pushed back to a later date. Wolves coach Gene Durden used the word “unique” when describing the turn of events. He has spent this brief hiatus making sure his players are physically and mentally rested before Friday night.
“Like it or don’t like, it’s what we gotta do,” Durden said. “You know, we just want to get back in a routine this week. Any region game is a big game, so we wanna make sure that our players are ready to play. But our first part of the season has prepared us really well.”
Indeed it has. Buford’s (6-0) unbeaten mark includes a win over a previously top-ranked Holy Innocents Episcopal team during a strong showing at the Craig Sager Classic on Nov. 21. Buford’s girls have won all seven previous meetings against Flowery Branch since first playing in 2007.
Durden said doesn’t want this program to focus on the past, especially against a Flowery Branch program that has been on an upward trend since its first-ever state semifinal berth in March. The Falcons impressive start includes a win over No. 3 Carrollton, and its only loss this season came against a No. 2 Winder-Barrow team led by UConn pledge Olivia Nelson-Ododa. The Bulldoggs held off Flowery Branch, 50-48, on Nov. 28.
“It is just our philosophy that we don’t get all caught up in ‘this is a rivalry game.’ Or this that and the other," Durden said. "Our philosophy is always, ‘next opponent, next preparation.”
“I’m not into this ‘No. 1 versus No. 2.’ All that stuff can change in a heartbeat.”
Both teams showcase practically the same rosters from last year, including two Division I products. Flowery Branch senior Taniyah Worth, who signed with Alabama last month, racked a double-double and scored 15 of her 16 points in the first half to give the Wolves early fits in the last showdown at Buford City Arena. The Falcons carried a one-point lead in the final quarter before Buford’s Tory Ozment (Michigan State pledge) fronted a fourth-quarter charge as part of her 18-point outing in a 51-46 edge of Flowery Branch.