MILLEDGEVILLE -- This was supposed to be the season that Buford girls basketball took a step back -- instead the Lady Wolves are right back in title contention.
Buford moved one win away from its first state championship since 2011 on Saturday courtesy a 63-46 win over Pike County in the Class AAA semifinals in Milledgeville, using a 19-4 second quarter run to propel the Lady Wolves back to Macon after a one-year absence.
It will be the first trek to the Centreplex for a number of Buford standouts and one that coach Gene Durden is relishing, as they prepare to face St. Pius at 3 p.m. March 8.
"This is just an incredible journey; for us to have so few kids back from last year and for so many kids to wait their turn and now to be where we are -- we're truly blessed," said Durden, who returned just two true starters from a season ago. "And everybody in that locker room is excited."
With the way Buford plays defense there is certainly plenty of reason for anticipation.
And while the Lady Wolves (30-2) didn't do their usual full-court demolition job on Pike County Saturday -- forcing 12 total turnovers -- Buford still clamped down on the Lady Pirates in the half court, especially in the critical second quarter.
Leading 17-15, the Lady Wolves held Pike County without a basket for just under five minutes, enabling an 11-0 run that stretched to 19-4 before the half. The drought put Pike County in a 36-19 hole from which the Lady Pirates never recovered.
"The great thing about this team is that they can play full court but if that's not working, they can back off and and do a really good job in the half court," Durden said. "That's what we did tonight. And that's big to be able to do that in tournament play."
Buford's depth has also proven critical throughout the state tournament, as the Lady Wolves claimed their third victory since Monday.
"That was critical, when you play so many games together like that it's easy to get tired," Durden said.
Now Buford will get a chance to rest up in anticipation of next week's title showdown -- a factor that Durden says could be a bain or boon.
"If we have all that time off and we come out and play well I'll say it was great, if not I won't like it -- check with me next week," Durden chuckled.
If Buford can continue its solid all-around play from Saturday, few will be talking about the lay-off.
Nine different Lady Wolves players scored in the semifinal, including a game-high 20 points for Camille Anderson -- who drained two 3-pointers in the second quarter run that swung the game in Buford's favor. Bree Horrocks also added 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"Our kids play so well together as a unit," Durden said. "They just really fit together as a team, and it's great to see."
Pike County pushed Buford early, trading baskets through the first quarter, as Buford eged ahead 17-13. Yet the Lady Wolves took control early in the second quarter and never trailed again, as Marissa Bruce, Horrocks and Anderson took turns scoring for a 36-19 Lady Wolves advantage.
The Lady Pirates tried to respond in the third quarter, cutting the Buford lead to 41-28 on Precious Daniels' 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the quarter. But the Lady Wolves responded and restored their advantage to 48-31 at the end of the period.
Pike County never threatened again.
Buford is looking at a showdown against St. Pius in the title game -- the team that knocked the Lady Wolves out of the postseason in last year's quarterfinal round.
Durden says he could care less about any potential storylines, however.
"We're just happy to be here; we don't care who we get," Durden said.