GAINESVILLE -- With the state playoffs steaming onto the horizon, Buford girls basketball coach Gene Durden says his team still has plenty of work to do.
The Lady Wolves will gladly do so as Region 7-AAA champions.
Buford fended off a primed Dawson County squad, 60-52 on Saturday in the region championship finale in Gainesville, overcoming 10 made 3-pointers from the Lady Tigers with strong post play, as Kristina Nelson poured in a game-high 20 points to help the Lady Wolves to the title.
"Kristina came up big tonight when we had to have it; she really finished and help us put the game on ice," Durden said. "We still need to improve in our rebounding, half-court execution and half-court defense, though. And to win a state championship you have to be able to do those three things."
Dawson County battled throughout inside, yielding the rebounding advantage by just two to the larger Lady Wolves -- 31-29 -- but it was from outside that the Lady Tigers did the majority of their offensive damage.
Led by Hannah Porter, who drilled five 3-pointers for a team-high 15 points, Dawson County (23-5) pushed Buford (22-4) to the finish line. Porter's final trey of the night -- a jaw-dropping 24-foot shot -- hauled the Lady Tigers within 52-51 with 2:25 remaining.
Yet the Lady Wolves refused to panic, point guard Maya Dillard and Nelson moving the ball inside and drawing fouls -- and hitting the resulting free throws -- to inch away for victory.
Dillard, who finished 6-of-8 from the free throw line, put up 10 points on the night, while Camille Anderson also scored 14, including some big 3-pointers of her own to answer Dawson's outside proficiency.
"They really crashed down on us inside and made us move around a lot," Durden said of Dawson County, which finished as Region 7-AAA's No. 2 seed. "Give them credit. They played a great game tonight. Any time you get into tournament play you have to go through tough games. We have certainly done that this week, and that will only make us better."
Buford looked set to pull away early, closing the first quarter on an 11-2 run, including a 3-pointer by Anderson, to grab a 22-13 advantage. But Dawson County fired right back, battling for every rebound and stepping up its outside shooting.
Allie Costley and Ashley Parker each buried 3-pointers, while the Lady Tigers out-rebounded Buford 17-13 in the first half to pull within 30-27 at halftime. Parker finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, while Carly Gilreath also put up 13 points.
Parker and Porter each hit baskets in the third quarter that tied the score, but Buford found the answer each time, including a 6-0 push from Nelson that yielded a 44-37 lead early in the fourth quarter. Gilreath and Porter fired right back with 3-pointers, however, setting up a sprint to the finish.
Both teams will play host to first round state playoff games next week, times to be determined. The Lady Tigers will take on Blessed Trinity in Dawsonville, while Buford will face Woodward Academy.