Vidalia showed Thursday night that it had little trouble climbing back from a deficit.
Buford head coach Gene Durden made sure he let his team know that at halftime of the GHSA Class AA championship game Saturday afternoon at the Macon Coliseum.
“Vidalia can be deadly with the press and force you to turn it over,” said Durden, who watched as his team built a 12-point lead going into the half. “We told them we wanted to win every quarter.”
Buford (29-4) won all but of one of the quarters to pull away with a 50-38 win over No. 1 Vidalia. It was Buford’s second consecutive AA championship, while the loss was the first of the season for the Indians, who were trying to win their first state championship.
The Wolves won by slowing down the Indians’ two standouts on offense and by navigating Vidalia’s fullcourt pressure defense for most of the game.
Buford held Vidalia point guard Kourtnee Williams to two points and without a field goal in the first half. The Indians’ top post player Shekinah Henry was held scoreless in the first half and finished with five points.
“We wanted to keep (Williams) under control because if she can get to the paint, then she can cause havoc,” Durden said. “Our plan (with Henry) was to put three defenders on her every time she touched the ball.”
The first three minutes were brutal for the Indians, who fell behind 16-2 to the pressing Wolves. The deficit never grew much larger — Vidalia (31-1) trailed by as many as 16 in the second quarter — but the Indians couldn’t really make a big dent in the lead either.
“We didn’t come out ready to play,” Williams said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe we were a little intimidated, but we didn’t play very well.”
Vidalia’s start resembled the same struggles it had in the early moments of the semifinals game against Greater Atlanta Christian. The Indians trailed by 18 in the first half and by as many as 15 in the third quarter.
“I think we took longer to get it going (Saturday),” Vidalia head coach Chunk Reid said. “That first few minutes ended up being the difference in the game. We couldn’t get back close enough.”
Vidalia scrapped back against Greater Atlanta Christian with its smothering fullcourt press, but that aspect of its game was rendered neutral by Buford sophomore Andraya Carter.
Carter, who led all scorers with 20 points, continuously broke the Indians’ press defense with her dribble and with her ability to pass it through the congestion.
Vidalia only forced five turnovers with its press, and only three of those resulted in steals. Against GAC, the Indians forced six turnovers with its press in a two-minute period in the fourth quarter.
“Our press is our bread and butter,” Henry said. “But we didn’t have our butter (on Saturday).”
Despite never taking large chunks out of the Wolves’ lead, Vidalia made a run in the third quarter. It shaved seven points off the Wolves’ 17-point lead, and the Indians looked to have some momentum heading into the fourth quarter until Williams was whistled for an offensive foul on a made basket by Henry. The points would have cut the Wolves’ lead to eight points. Vidalia then turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions of the fourth quarter.
Vidalia again pulled to within 10 points on a free throw by Williams with 2:10 to play in the game. The foul was the fourth on Carter, and the Indians might have had a little hope if they could have drawn another foul on Carter. GAC point guard Chaney Means fouled out in the semifinals, and the Indians’ press was extremely effective without a top-notch point guard on the floor. Part of the Indians’ third-quarter run came with Carter on the bench.
“Without (Means) on the floor, Vidalia was really able to attack them,” Carter said. “They really didn’t have that leader out there. I wasn’t going to pick up my fifth. If I had to let someone score a basket, I wasn’t picking up that fifth foul. My teammates needed me out there, and I would have put it on my shoulders if I fouled out and we lost.”
BUFORD 50, VIDALIA 38
Buford: Lacey Pass 8, Andraya Carter 20, Shereese Williams 8, Ayana Ward 2, McKenzie Darrah 4, Alysha Rudnik 6.
Vidalia: Shanice Mincey 8, Olivia Coleman 11, Kourtnee Williams 9, Shekinah Henry 5, Shaniqua Williams 5.
3-pointers: Buford 3 (Pass 2, Carter); Vidalia 3 (K. Williams, Coleman, S. Williams).
Records: Buford 29-4, Vidalia 31-1.