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.
The Patriots’ three consecutive regional titles — 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.”
The regional final against Palatine was the pièce de résistance for Buford.
Whenever Palatine made a run, Buford would hit a jump shot, make a steal or win a tussle for a loose ball. Her 21-point, 11-rebound, four-steal performance may have been her best of the season. It was so spectacular that Way 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.” ~.