Laney, which won its first two state playoff contests by a combined 112 points, had to play a complete 32 minutes to beat Morgan County 71-67 on Saturday to advance to Thursday's Class AA state semifinals in Macon.
Trailing by two points entering the fourth quarter, the Lady Wildcats (29-1) were eight minutes away from not only their first defeat since Nov. 23, but also their first loss to an in-state foe this season.
Early on, it looked like Laney would win another game comfortably, as it led 22-14 in the first quarter. However, the Lady Wildcats eventually found themselves playing in just their third game decided by single digits.
Losing by as much as four points in the fourth quarter, Laney rose to the challenge as DeKoya Mack hit three huge 3-pointers; Ciara Morris had two field goals and got clutch rebounds; Jermeka Gibson added six points, including two on a jumper with less than a minute remaining; and Mykala Jones scored the game's last two points at the foul line.
The four players scored 48 of Laney's 71 points as the Lady Wildcats advanced to their third consecutive final four.
"We had to work for that game," Jones said.
Laney might need that depth to show up again Thursday against Buford, which knocked out the Lady Wildcats in the state semifinals the past two seasons.
Though recent history might be against his team, Smart was quick to acknowledge the upcoming opportunity and the accomplishment of making another deep tournament run.
"We're looking forward to it," he said. "It's nice to be in this situation."