Buford trailed for much of the first three quarters of the Class AAAAA girls basketball championship game Friday at the Macon Coliseum, but eventually the Wolves’ relentless pressure and deep bench took their toll on Villa Rica.
Top-ranked Buford outscored the Wildcats 38-26 in the second half, 18-12 in the fourth quarter, and escaped with a 67-59 victory for its third consecutive state championship and fourth in five seasons.
“You could tell going into the third and fourth quarter that [Villa Rica] got tired, and I was proud of the way our kids kept going,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We faced a lot of adversity from the officials in a lot of ways, but we just kept doing what we do.”
Buford (29-2) used 11 players, 10 of which scored at least two points and had at least two rebounds, and none played more than 21 minutes. Villa Rica had five players log 23 minutes or more and had three players foul out. Buford also created 29 Villa Rica turnovers, which it turned into 22 points.
“I was really proud of the whole team effort tonight,” Durden said. “It wasn’t our best game, by far, but we’ve won ugly for the last two or three games, and I thought our kids did a great job of fighting and scrapping and doing what they had to do to win.”
Villa Rica came into the championships as one of three unbeaten girls teams in the state but was the only ranked not ranked No. 1, instead holding the No. 2 spot behind Buford. The Wildcats finished the season 32-1.
Villa Rica led 33-29 at halftime, but Buford outscored the Wildcats 12-7 over the first four minutes of the third quarter to take a 41-40 lead on a layup by Preston Reid, then made it 43-40 on a layup by Ashya Willis 30 seconds later. Villa Rica’s Tee Windom answered with a 3-pointer, one of her five in the game, to tie the score, but Buford’s Tate Walters hit two consecutive 3-pointers for a 49-43 lead. Villa Rica cut the lead to two points by the end of the third quarter, but Buford pulled away in the fourth.
Walters led Buford with 16 points. Blair Wallis had 11, including a 3-pointer during the Wolves’ third-quarter rally that cut Villa Rica’s lead to 40-39.
Villa Rica’s Deasia Merrill picked up her second foul midway through the first quarter and had to play a big role in bringing the ball up the court against the pressure, so she was never able to establish an offensive presence inside. The senior post, a Kentucky signee and top 100 national recruit, had just two field goals in the lane and finished with 11 points, far below her 21-point average. She did, however, have 14 rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots.
“We knew we couldn’t shut her down because she’s a very good player, but we wanted to limit her to 12 or 15 points,” Walters said. “We knew we’d have to get pressure on everybody else so they couldn’t get her the ball, and we really needed to get her tired. She’s a great player, and I’ve got to give her her props.”
Windom, who made five of her 10 3-point attempts, scored a game-high 21 points, and Dekya Coffield had 10 points for the Wildcats.
Buford (67): Casey Jones, 9, Tate Walters 16, Ashya Willis 8, Preston Reid 4, Ebony Grant 4, Tatum Ozment 4, Katelyn Klein 2, Sara Viti 3, Blair Wallis 11, Abbi Perkins 6, Ryan Nelson.
Villa Rica (59): Dekya Cofield 10, Tee Windom 21, Kyndal Coleman 5, Deasia Merrill 11, Aliyah Hindsman 6, Niya Hindsman 2, Hannah Goen 4, Marley Couch.
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