Basketball Long Beach Poly

CIF Basketball: Long Beach Poly Defense Locks Down Alemany

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.

It was one of those special nights in the Ron Palmer Pavilion.

The Long Beach Poly girls’ basketball team was hosting Alemany in a first-round CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoff game, and there was a good crowd on hand, including several Jackrabbit hoop alums on hand to root their team to victory. Poly is young this year, and inexperienced, and they started out in trouble, down 22-10 early in the game. But then that familiar Jackrabbit magic kicked in and Poly played ferocious defense, holding the Warriors to just six points in the third quarter, and just five made field goals in the second half. 

In the end the large home crowd went home happy, as their Jackrabbits won 54-47.

“Early on I was a little worried, we were nervous,” said Poly coach Carl Buggs. “We had a couple of subs come in and pick the tempo up. The kids weren’t worried about it–they supported each other and did everything they could to win.”

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Key among those subs was sophomore Nevaeh Lemons, who embodied the spirit of Poly’s defensive legacy. She came in off the bench and helped key a 13-1 run for Poly after they’d trailed by 12 early on. Her defensive effort picked up her teammates and brought the energy in the building up as well. When she fouled out in the fourth quarter, she got a rousing applause from the crowd and a big hug from each one of the Poly assistants.

“We’ve been waiting for that, that was her best game of the year,” said Buggs. “She’s getting the confidence in herself.”

Lemons stands just five-foot-five, but played defense like an absolute terror, throwing herself on the ground after balls, yelling at herself to keep herself psyched up, and generally being disruptive.

“I knew I needed to step up this year as a sophomore and no matter what, it’s in the Poly Jackrabbit blood to play defense and be on the ground and be grinding,” said Lemons.

Once Poly started digging in defensively, the offense began to open up as well. Brooklyn Taylor was excellent on both ends of the floor with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks. Jazmyne Shamburger had 13 points, and Andrea Perkins hit two huge 3-pointers in the third quarter to put Poly up 37-30 and 40-34 heading to the fourth.

Poly was able to hit their free throws in the fourth and stay ahead the whole way, as their stifling defense continued to flummox Alemany.

“I think we were in their heads, definitely,” said Lemons. “I don’t think they’d seen a defense like ours before. I’m proud of my team and I appreciate them having my back to get the win after I fouled out.”

Taylor’s performance was even more impressive given that she was guarding centers much bigger than her on defense, then going down and being heavily involved offensively. She said that her team–which is made up mostly of sophomores and juniors–took a big step forward Thursday night.

“It’s hard to put a team together in one year, and we’ve had times when we had issues,” said Taylor. “Not tonight. Tonight we were all able to say nothing else matters but winning and playing for each other, we didn’t care about anything else.”

Sydney Boyd and Jaleina Taliauli both added six points each, with Taliauli chipping in a team-high four assists as well.

Buggs doesn’t have much to accomplish as a coach that he hasn’t already accomplished several times over. He’s got more CIF-SS and CIF State rings than he knows what to do with, and he’s jumping up the all-time state wins leaderboard every season. But his passion for molding teams was obvious after the game on Thursday.

“It’s just about getting them to believe in themselves, to know what we’re all about,” he said. “Our program is all about togetherness, not individuals. Play together and make it work–they did that tonight.”

The Jackrabbits now hit the road for an even tougher test at Esperanza on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. in the second round.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs Alemany CIF Basketball
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Alemany CIF Basketball
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.