Thanks to Buford, Patriots sleep easy
Stevenson's Taylor Buford goes up for a shot during a regional final against Palatine Feb. 14. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 9:48AM
WHEELING — If you watched Stevenson’s girls basketball team long enough this season, there was a play that became very familiar.
Senior point guard Kari Moffat dribbled into the frontcourt. Sophomore Taylor Buford stood by the left or right elbow. Once Moffat reached the 3-point line, Buford flashed to the opposite side to receive a pass. Screened from her defender, Buford stopped, turned, and fired a jump shot. More often than not, the shot went in.
It looked like second nature, but the play was not a function of happenstance. It was a product of repetition and a microcosm of Buford’s development as a player.
“Practice, practice, practice,” said the 5-foot-10 Buford, whose season ended when Stevenson lost to Rolling Meadows 58-47 in a Class 4A Libertyville Sectional semifinal Monday. “We work hard on it. I can look at Kari’s eyes and make it happen.”
The Patriots’ three consecutive regional championships — the third coming after a 47-35 win over Palatine Feb. 14 — are a function of many things. Consistent guard play and stingy, attached-at-the-hip defense have always been trademarks of coach Tom Dineen’s teams. This season, Buford’s evolution from a skilled — but raw — freshman power forward into an attacking, around-the-rim point forward was another reason Stevenson won 20 games.
With Katie Batman and Olivia Whalen gone from last year’s sectional semifinal team, Buford knew she would be asked to do more this year. So on the summer AAU circuit — where Buford was a member of the Midwest Elite — she worked on honing her offensive skills.
“I’d have to handle the ball more as a guard,” Buford said. “I knew I’d have to be more of an attacker and scorer and shooter.”
As Stevenson’s backcourt combo of Moffat and Sophia Way evolved into one of the best in the North Suburban Conference, Buford integrated herself into the Patriots’ system. She scored when defenses would key on Way, an all-area shooting guard, and handled the ball when Moffat or Way needed a breather.
The regional final against Palatine was the pièce de résistance for Buford. From the opening whistle, she attacked the glass, snatching rebounds with the ferocity of Baylor’s Brittney Griner.
“It picks all of us up. If she’s playing aggressive, people look to her and everyone starts playing aggressive,” senior guard Paige Freudenberg said.
Whenever Palatine made a run, Buford would hit a jump shot, make a steal or win a tussle for a loose ball. She controlled the game. Her 21-point, 11-rebound, four-steal performance may have been her best of the season. It was so spectacular that Way, one of Buford’s best friends on the team, flashed a big, broad smile when asked about it afterward.
“She’s a smart player, so athletic and her body is perfect for the game,” Way said, pausing for effect. “Whether you play well or not, when she has a game like that, you can’t help but go to sleep happy.”
Which is the opposite of how opponents feel when Buford is on the court.