High School Basketball

Justice, Polson live up to billing

Before their quarterfinal game Friday night in the PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Tournament, West Jessamine Coach Damon Kelly was joking around with Shelby Valley Coach Jason Booher.

"Let's just give them what the fans want," Kelly said he told Booher. "Let's go one-on-one, nobody fouls out."

Well, it wasn't quite like that when West Jessamine's Jarrod Polson and Shelby Valley's Elisha Justice, two of the best point guards in the state, went head-to-head in Rupp Arena.

"The two best point guards in the state," Kelly said.

But the two senior stars did put on a good show as Shelby Valley dominated the second half to beat the Colts 67-54.

Justice, the Wildcats' 5-foot-11 senior, scored 28 points, with five rebounds and two assists as Shelby Valley became the first team from Pike County to reach the tournament's semifinals since 1982.

Meanwhile, Polson, the Colts' 6-3 senior, scored 25 points with seven rebounds and five assists as West Jessamine saw its second straight trip to the Sweet 16 end a day earlier than a year ago.

"I'm sure for a lot of people it was neat to see them go head-to-head tonight," Kelly said. "(But) for me personally and for these guys, we wanted to win. It wasn't about an individual matchup."

The two rarely guarded each other — "I don't think either one of us had any intentions of getting them matched up too early in the game because neither one of us wanted our best players in foul trouble," Kelly said — but often matched baskets and styles, penetrating the paint to either score or dish to an open man.

Justice ended up making eight of 17 shots, including three of five from three-point range. He did a good bit of his damage at the foul line, making nine of 10 from the stripe. He made five straight in the game's final 97 seconds.

Polson was 9-for-22 from the floor, including 4-for-9 from three-point land. He did hit the boards a bit better than did Justice, plus registered three more assists.

"We knew coming in that he was a big-time point guard," said Justice of Polson. "But we just try not to let that affect us, really."

But in the end, Justice, who is headed to Louisville as a walk-on next season, hit bigger shots. His three-pointer with just two ticks left in the first half pulled the Wildcats to within a bucket, 26-24, of the Colts at intermission.

His three-pointer not two minutes into the third quarter gave Shelby Valley a 29-26 lead.

Polson answered with a triple to tie the game at 29, and scored in transition to put the Colts up 33-32 with 3:27 left. But Justice buried another three-pointer with 3:04 left in the third quarter to put the Wildcats up 37-34, and Shelby Valley never looked back.

"He's a great player," said Polson of Justice. "I hadn't really got a chance to watch him, so this was the first time I really played against him. I didn't realize how quick he was."

And perhaps some in Rupp didn't realize how athletic Polson was until he went way above the rim to try to tip in a West Jessamine miss inside the final 40 seconds.

"I think there are a few other coaches who might argue for their own players, but if you took a poll of coaches around the state, these are the two names that would pop up the most," Kelly said. "Elisha is a great player. He's probably had the bigger name statewide for a couple of years, and probably had the bigger name in recruiting circles. But, and I don't mean this as a knock on him, I would take Jarrod every day of the week. That's how much faith and belief I have in him as a player.

"And if I didn't have Jarrod," Kelly said, "I'd settle for Elisha and I'd still win a lot of basketball games."

Including the game Friday night.