By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Who knew Lovett’s Sydney Umeri could shoot threes?
Sydney Umeri did.
The 6-foot-1 junior, a nationally-ranked player who usually does most of her offensive damage on the low block, stepped out and drilled three long range bombs during a 22-point third quarter that propelled the Lions (28-5) to a 52-42 win over Buford (25-8) in the Class AA final, Saturday in Macon.
The win prevented the Wolves from capturing their fourth consecutive state title. For Lovett, it is the first basketball state championship, girls or boys, for the school. Buford had won the two previous meetings this season between the Region 6 rivals, downing the Lions during the regular season (58-44) on Jan. 21 and in the region tournament championship game (45-39) on Feb. 18.
“It just shows how much my game has developed and how much our team has developed this season,” said Umeri. She had just two points in the first half as Lovett held a 15-14 lead at intermission.
“I got in foul trouble in the first half. In the second half I told myself that I had to come out and do something to help our team win this championship,” said Umeri, who finished with 13 points. “Our team deserved it and especially our seniors deserved it.”
Two of those seniors stepped up big time in the second half as well, particularly in the fourth quarter. Guard Tatianna Jackson, who led all scorers with 20 points, scored 12 in the second half with seven coming in the fourth quarter, and forward Christen Johnson scored eight of her 12 points in the final period. Together, they helped stave off a comeback by the Wolves, who trailed by 12 midway through the third quarter.
After applying some full court pressure, Buford trimmed the lead to four, 39-35, with four minutes left after a lay up on a strong move to the basket by junior guard Kaela Davis. The daughter of former NBA veteran Antonio Davis led the Wolves with 14 points, nine in the fourth. Her bucket off of a Buford steal made the score 41-37, Lovett, with just over three minutes left.
The Wolves appeared to have forced another Lovett turnover on the Lions’ next possess when an errant pass looked like it was about to roll out of bounds along the baseline. But Jackson flashed in from the high post, retrieved the ball and banked it in. The bucket started an 8-3 run over the games final two minutes the sealed the deal.
“We just knew this was our game. We knew we could beat them,” said Jackson, who has signed with Chattanooga. “We knew we had a great team and we came out more aggressively in the second half.”
“We have a lot of respect for Buford. They’re a great team,” said Johnson, who has signed with Northwestern. “But we definitely came in fired up. We wanted this game.”
Lovett head coach Liz Kennedy applauded her team’s resolve in withstanding the fourth quarter run by the three-time state champions.
“That is just an amazing team over there, so talented,” Kennedy said. “They have done a phenomenal job building that program. But I just had the feeling that this was our year, and when the ball started bouncing our way, it just all came together.”
The game was the final one in the high school career of Tennessee-bound guard Andraya Carter, who is still battling back from knee surgery and suffered a separated shoulder earlier in the season. Buford’s championship run began during Carter’s freshman year.
“Andraya Carter has been the foundation of this program,” said Buford head coach Gene Durden, who led the Wolves to all three titles. “To see her battle the way she did this season and give everything she had says so much about her and who she is.”
Lovett 52: Tatianna Jackson 20; Sydney Umeri 13; Christen Johnson 12; Julia Selman 3; Taylor Brown 2; Carrie Mutombo 2.
Buford 42: Kaela Davis 14; Kristina Nelson 9; MacKenzie Darrah 5; Kallie Case 4; Andraya Carter 4; Emily Adams 4; Maya Dillard 2.