You want a rivalry? This one has just about all the hallmarks of a classic.
The Buford and Flowery Branch girls basketball teams are two of the best in Class 5A, and they play in the same region... And now they're playing each other for a state title.
The two foes know each other like extended family having played six times in two seasons, including back-to-back battles for the Region 8-AAAAA championship.
Buford has owned the series, winning all six meetings. But the series has been closer than the numbers indicate. Half of the contests were decided by 9 points or less. Four were decided by 10 points or less and just two by 15 or more. Flowery Branch had the lead in four of the meetings and twice led at halftime.
Both coaches -- Branch’s Courtney Newton-Gonzalez and Buford’s Gene Durden -- said during the week they expect another tough, grind-it-out affair. Defensive play will be paramount.
Who will have the bigger impact? Branch’s Alabama-signee Taniyah Worth, who had a 34-point explosion against Dutchtown in the quarterfinals, or Buford’s Tory Ozment, a Michigan State-signee, who is one of the best all-around players in the state.
(NOTE: Below is a game-by-game breakdown of the six games played over the past two seasons. Further down is a breakdown of today's contest.)
Feb. 10, 2018 Region 8-AAAAA championship game: Buford 49, Branch 41
- Buford forced 10 Flowery Branch turnovers in the first half yet led just 25-23 at halftime after committing 10 turnovers of its own in the first half.
- Flowery Branch committed just three turnovers in the second half but missed five free throws in the fourth quarter while trying to mount a rally. The Wolves had opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run and led 40-28 early in the fourth quarter.
- Flowery Branch pulled within six points three times in the final period but could get no closer. Free throw shooting and missed opportunities were a factor for Flowery Branch. The Lady Falcons missed four uncontested layups during the game and were just 9-of-18 from the foul line.
Jan. 23, 2018: Buford 69, at Branch 38
- This was the only lopsided game in the series as Buford caught the Lady Falcons on a flat night.
- Buford never trailed as Audrey Weiner drained a long 3-pointer off a feed from Tory Ozment just moments into the contest. Flowery Branch pulled within 5-3 on a three-point play from Taniyah Worth. That’s as close as the Lady Falcons would get.
- Buford exploded for a 9-0 run in less than two minutes and but a Lexie Sengkemmee 3-pointer got the Lady Falcons within 14-7. After the Branch closed to within 19-11, the Lady Wolves defense took over in the second quarter sparking a 23-3 run for a 42-14 advantage. Buford held Flowery Branch to just one Sengkemmee 3-pointer in the second quarter. The Lady Wolves cruised from there.
Dec 15, 2017: at Buford 58, Branch 48
- Flowery Branch jumped out of the gates in the first quarter taking an 18-11 lead. Buford climbed within 29-27 at the half behind its defense and led 45-41 after three quarters.
- Ozment (24 points) and Weiner (18) had perhaps their best games in the series for the Lady Wolves, who pulled away in the fourth quarter.
- Worth managed a double-double for the first time in the series with 12 points, 11 rebounds and added 4 assists.
Feb. 11, 2017 Region 8-AAAAA championship game: Buford 53, Branch 38
- It was a defensive struggle in the first quarter. The first points were scored on a pair of Marissa Bruce free throws and no field goals were tallied for the first four minutes. Flowery Branch missed its first seven shots while the Lady Wolves were just 2-of-6 shooting.
- Buford did open the game with an 8-0 run before the Lady Falcons rallied to within 8-4 on baskets by Julianne Sutton and Taniyah Worth but could get no closer the rest of the half. It would also turn out to be the closest they got entire game.
- It was just 21-12 Buford at halftime. A Worth three-point play to open the third quarter pulled the Lady Falcons’ within 21-15, but the Lady Wolves used a 7-0 run, capped by a Ozment 3-pointer for a 28-15 lead with 3:30 left in the period.
- The Lady Wolves maintained a double digit lead the rest of the way but Flowery Branch did pull within 44-34 on a Worth 3-pointer with 2:02 left.
Jan. 24, 2017: at Buford 51, Branch 46
- This was probably the best game of the six and the Lady Falcons’ best chance to pull out a victory, at least for the first three quarters.
- There were two ties, 10 lead changes, big runs, timely defense, and clutch free throw shooting.
- Buford took the last of the lead changes on a pair of Marissa Brice free throws to open the fourth quarter and then pulled away for the win. But before that, Buford opened the game with a 7-0 blast in just 90 seconds but the Branch answered with a 13-6 spurt to close out the first quarter and extended it to a 16-13 lead on a Taniyah Worth 3-pointer moments into the second.
- Worth had 15 first half points on drives and 3-pointers to help Flowery Branch take a 23-21 lead into halftime. However, she would score just 1 point in the second half.
- The Lady Falcons took a 34-33 lead into the fourth quarter but Buford held the Branch without a field goal for the first 6:38 of the fourth quarter while going on a 12-3 run to take control.
Dec. 16, 2016: Buford 53, at Branch 44
- In the first meeting between the two teams in nearly 10 years, Flowery Branch came in ranked No. 1 and the Lady Wolves No. 2.
- Fueled by their patented full-court press, the Lady Wolves erased an early 13-12 deficit with a 17-2 second quarter run to grab the lead and never trailed again. Buford forced 8 second quarter turnovers, half on steals, and turned that into a 30-14 advantage.
- Flowery Branch never got closer than 10 until a Sengkhammee 3-pointer provided the final points of the game with just 17 seconds left.
CLASS 5A GIRLS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
BUFORD vs. FLOWERY BRANCH
-- WHEN: 6 p.m., Thursday
-- WHERE: Macon Coliseum, Macon
-- RADIO: WDUN AM 550/1029 FM
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (26-6): Defeated Rome 78-63 1st rd, Lithia Springs 68-39 2nd rd, Dutchtown 70-56 quarterfinals, Harris County 72-55 semifinals
-- BUFORD (28-3): Defeated Kell 75-41 1st rd, Jackson-Atlanta 75-40 2nd rd, Eagles Landing 50-37 quarterfinals, Villa Rica 60-46 semifinals
-- OFFENSE: Branch, 62.6 ppg (72.0 ppg in playoffs); Buford, 62.8 ppg (65 ppg in playoffs)
-- DEFENSE: Branch, 41.8 ppg (53.2 ppg in playoffs); Buford, 34.2 ppg (41 ppg in playoffs)
-- BRANCH STARTERS: Sr. Taniyah Worth (14.2 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.5 bpg; playoffs, 21.2 ppg shooting 68% from 2-point and 46% from 3-point, 91% on FT); Jr. Caroline Wysocki (11.8 ppg, 83% FT, 3.5 apg, 2.5 spg); Jr. Ashley Woodroofe (9.6 ppg, 2 apg, 1.5 spg); Sr. Lexie Sengkhammee (7.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, school record-holder in 3-pointers); Fr. Ashlee Locke (6.4 ppg, 7 rpg)
-- BUFORD STARTERS: Sr. Tory Ozment 14.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 3.0 spg, 49% FG); Sr. Audrey Weiner (10.2 ppg); Jr. Ebony Grant (5.1 ppg); Sr. Mary Walters (3.4 ppg); Sr. Kya Styles (3.4 ppg)
CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK CONTENT:
- COMING FRIDAY: A video feature with Gainesville's boys for the Class 6A title game