NICHOLASVILLE — Barely three weeks into the season, West Jessamine's boys' basketball team is learning what life is like as a defending region champ.
Before Tuesday night's home game against 12th Region rival Lincoln County, the Colts' students chanted "Rupp Arena! Rupp, Rupp Arena!" — a reminder that their favorite team made it to the Sweet Sixteen semifinals last March.
Ninety minutes later, as Lincoln County was wrapping up a 63-51 victory over West Jessamine, Patriots' fans gave their response: "Rupp Arena! Rupp, Rupp Arena!"
Led by four players with at least a dozen points apiece and an aggressive zone defense, Lincoln County outplayed the Colts on both ends of the floor.
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Matt Cooper hit five three-pointers for 15 points. Colby Long also had 15 for the winners. Zack Hill and Dylan Allison added 12 points apiece.
West Jessamine star senior guard Jarrod Polson had 29 points and five rebounds, but it wasn't enough as the Colts dropped to 0-3 this season.
"Obviously, everybody is frustrated right now," said first-year West Jessamine coach Damon Kelley.
"We're going to be a very good basketball team and in the mix come March, but right now we're really struggling offensively."
Lincoln County Coach Jeff Jackson knows what it's like to be defending region champ, so he can empathize with Kelley and his players.
"They're not only going through a transition coaching wise, they're going through a transition of being region champs," Jackson said. "They're not only learning a new coach's philosophy and style, they're learning that everybody is going to come after you a little harder."
They're also in a region balanced with good teams.
"On any given night," Jackson said, "anybody in our region can beat anybody else."
The difference is usually defense, and that's what Jackson said won it for his Patriots Tuesday night.
After losing to East Jessamine Friday night, Lincoln County played terrific zone defense in whipping Nicholasville's other team.
"We played with more energy and defended well tonight," he said.
Even though Polson had 29 points, the Patriots made him work to get them. The 6-foot-3 point guard tried to find seams in the zone on forays to the rim. He wound up at the foul line a lot, and hit 10 of 13 free throws.
But none of his teammates gave help him much on the offensive end. Dylan Pohl was the next high scorer with six points.
"Right now we're wanting Jarrod to do it all," Kelley said. "Teams are really focusing on him, and everybody else is putting too much pressure on themselves, or wanting to defer to him.
"We have other good basketball players besides Jarrod, but we're not showing that right now."
Two weeks into last season, West Jessamine had a 2-2 record but wound up 28-9 and came within a basket or two of reaching the state finals.
Kelley is confident that holdovers such as Polson, Pohl, Kyle Mefford, David Elliott and Keston Bartholomew can get pointed in the direction of Rupp Arena again.
"Obviously, it's a disappointing start, but I know the character of these kids," Kelley said. "But we need something good to happen for us to start believing again."
LINCOLN COUNTY (3-2) — Allison 12, Long 15, Cooper 15, Hill 12, Edington 7, Sharp 2.
WEST JESSAMINE (0-3) — Mefford 3, Polson 29, Elliott 4, Pohl 6, Bartholomew 2, Sherrow 5, Strait 2.
Lincoln County 7 11 18 27 — 63
West Jessamine 7 12 7 25 — 51