BUFORD -- Despite what looked to be a dominating 56-38 win over Woodward Academy in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs Tuesday night at home, Buford girls coach Gene Durden said they are still growing as a team.
"Truthfully I didn't think we came out ready to play at the beginning," he said. "We had way too many turnovers and let them control the pace early on. But, the good thing is that we're able to struggle and still come out with a win."
Buford (23-4) next will take on the Elbert County at home on Friday in the second round.
Durden was right about the start. The much-taller Lady Wolves struggled against the quick Lady War Eagles. Woodward Academy forced seven first quarter Buford turnovers and hit two long 3-pointers as the lead exchanged hands four times before finishing in a 10-10 tie.
It appeared that Woodward's strategy was to beat Buford from long range. The Lady War Eagles shot 23 3-pointers but connected on just seven for the game. They would take a quick 13-10 lead on a 3-pointer by Madi Richardson to open the second quarter. But the Lady Wolves eventually used their tremendous height advantage to their favor.
"For us to advance in the playoffs we have to control the paint," Durden said. "I thought we did that after the first quarter."
Kristina Nelson had a field day underneath pouring in 13 of her game-high 27 points in the second quarter as McKenzie Darrah and Maya Dillard combined for six assists to Nelson, who was 6-for-6 from the field as she dropped in one layup after another.
"Kristina has tremendous touch around the basket and is a great shooter. We need to get her the ball as much as possible," Durden said.
The Lady Wolves defense did its part holding Woodward to just one free throw over a four minute stretch in the second quarter while using an 18-6 run to close out the first half for a 33-21 lead.
Buford would put the game out of reach with an 8-0 run to start the second half for a 41-21 lead. Woodward Academy would cut the lead to 50-36 midway through the fourth quarter on a Alex Williams 3-pointer but could get no closer.
Darrah finished with 12 points, three rebounds, and six assists for Buford. Dillard finished with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Lady Wolves. As a team Buford had 15 assists for the game
"Maya is one of the best rebounding guards in the state," Durden said. "She can score if we need her too but she does so many things for us. But really I like how we kept pounding it inside and finding the open person. These girls are very unselfish."
Tiana Grissom led Woodward with 11 points. Williams finished with nine for the Lady War Eagles.
Woodward Academy, which finished the season at 18-11, has lost four straight first round games. They have not advanced past the first round since 2007.