Like national debt — or a snowball rolling down a hill, for that matter — Shelby Valley's confidence has been growing for years now.
The Wildcats were cool Cats all the way Thursday, waxing Tilghman 68-45 in the first round of the PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament. Shelby Valley's 16th win in 17 games puts the Wildcats into Friday's quarterfinals against West Jessamine at 6:30 p.m.
As for that air of confidence that practically wafted up from an all-senior starting lineup, Coach Jason Booher said that comes from playing big games in big tournaments. He said that when his current seniors made it to Rupp Arena as freshmen, "it was really a celebration" of having won the 15th Region.
Last year, he saw growth as his team won a game for the first time in a State Tournament.
"These guys have matured so much. ... It really defined what these guys are all about," he said. "Good spacing. Sharing the basketball extremely well. They're the most unselfish team I've ever been around."
So the confidence shouldn't come as a surprise.
"We talk about a 'championship swagger.' We tell kids 'you respect everyone but you fear no one,' and these guys have always done a good job of that," Booher said. "To be a champion, you've got to have a little bit of a swagger. But these guys, the biggest thing is they have fun."
Elisha Justice led the Cats (29-4) with 21 points, six rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block, turning the ball over once in 29 minutes. At 5-foot-10, Justice is his team's shortest starter. The other four go from 6-3 to 6-6.
Taylor Newsome had 22 points and seven rebounds. Tyler Newsome, unrelated to Taylor, added 15 points and four assists. Ashley Hatfield, 6-6, had eight points and seven boards.
Tilghman (27-7) committed four turnovers and missed a shot before getting its first points, a pair of free throws by Dejuan Edmonds.
By then, the Blue Tornado already was in a 6-0 hole as Hatfield, Taylor Newsome and Justice each converted baskets in the first 40 seconds.
"Just disappointed the way we played coming out," Tilghman Coach Brad Stieg said. "We just dug ourselves too big of a hole against a very talented team."
Stieg said he felt fortunate to be down by only seven, 18-11, after one quarter. By halftime, though, Shelby Valley led 41-19.
"The second quarter snowballed," he said. "We couldn't get anything to go in and we had too many turnovers."
Justice opened the second quarter with back-to-back three-pointers. Tanner Tackett's put-back made it 26-11 and the rout was on.
"We started knocking down some shots early and that just helped us get into our rhythm and flow of the game," said Justice, who surpassed the 2,000-point mark with the second trey. "We just kept running with it — staying under control, finding the open man, finding who's hot."
Justice, who will walk on at Louisville next season, now has 2,012 career points. His three steals increased his state-record total to 527.
Tilghman, which took an 11-game winning streak into the day, was led by 6-4 junior Josh Forrest with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals. J.B. Harmon added 10 points and four rebounds.