Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Villanova’s Allan Ray hit for 38 points, Randy Foye had 25, Will Sheridan 23 and Mike Nardi had 19 in the Wildcats’ 114-103 triumph over the University of Redlands. The date was Nov. 3, 2003.
Amir Mazarei eventually became Redlands’ all-time leading scorer, even leading the entire NCAA – that’s D-1 through D-3 – with an average of 6.2 three-point field goals per game in 2005. He was second in Division 3 with a 28.6 scoring average.
He was only part of Redlands’ counter-attack against Villanova.
Redlands, playing its up-tempo defensive and offensive brand of organized mayhem, led 51-50 at halftime and really put the scare into the onetime NCAA champions. It was a game that included six ties and five lead changes.
Afterward, Wildcats’ coach Jay Wright reflected that Redlands “put the scare into us.”
“They should’ve been scared,” said Bulldog coach Gary Smith, moments after the game.
Smith, for his part, rotated his much larger roster in and out of the game against the eight-man Wildcats’ squad. Villanova needed every ounce of skill and discipline to knock off the physically smaller Bulldogs.
“I started my career coaching at Division 3 University of Rochester,” said Wright, “so I know how good those players are – very skilled, very talented. They maybe aren’t as big or as athletic.”
Redlands’ Donald Brady remembered his first play in the game, “coming down the court with Randy Foye guarding me. He deflected a pass. I couldn’t believe how quick he was. Luckily, someone came up with it. I almost committed a turnover.”
Villanova had more turnovers (23) than Redlands (18).
Redlands led by 10 points with nine minutes left. Ray hit a pair of difficult baseline jumpers, eight-footers that helped the Wildcats back into the game. “We missed a lot of lay-ups,” said Redlands’ Carson Sofro, whose team shot 36 percent to Villanova’s sizzling 63 percent.
“We might’ve had the advantage on talent,” Wright told me afterward, “but you and I know that. It doesn’t matter what a coach tells his players. What matters is what they hear.”
In that 2003 game, Derek Flegel and Billy Shivers combined for 51 of Redlands’ points. Mazarei, a freshman who would eventually become the school’s all-time leading scorer, added his 15, while Ryan Pelo netted six. Brady and Sofro barely saw action.
Flegel hit a game-opening three-pointer, lifting the smallish-gym’s capacity crowd to its feet. “The place erupted,” said Sofro, “after he hit that shot.”
In a way, I guess some of Redlands’ players were saying, it might’ve been an honor to lose such a game.
Fast forward some 27 months: The Wildcats, at times ranked No. 2 in the nation in 2005-2006 season, were a No. 1 seed in that year’s NCAA Tournament.
Several key members of that team were inside Currier Gymnasium, in uniform, in that November 2003 game. Villanova is still coached by Wright, who is still considered one of the bright coaching stars.
Mike Nardi, Ray and Will Sheridan were still playing when Villanova won its national championship in 2005-2006. Foye, a 6-4 senior, and Ray, a 6-2 senior, were the team’s top scorers at 20.3 and 18.9 points a game. Nardi, 6-2, a junior, was hitting at 11.5. Sheridan, a 6-foot-8 junior, netted five points a game. Ross Condon was another current Wildcat who played at Redlands.
Baker Dunleavy, son of then-Los Angeles Clippers’ coach Mike Dunleavy, was then a freshman. Dunleavy, a 6-5, red-shirt junior, was held scoreless at Redlands in a limited role. The brother of Warriors’ onetime No. 1 draft pick Mike Dunleavy, Jr., had played limited roles throughout his career.
He was not a factor against Redlands.
In 2005-2006, Villanova, ranked No. 2 behind Duke heading into a Big East loss at Connecticut, was 22-2 after that game. Wright’s team was gunning for an NCAA Tournament championship to cap the March Madness.
The Wildcats (18-17 in 2003-2004) failed to reach the NCAA Tournament field that season, losing to Rutgers in the NIT quarterfinals. “They’ve come a long way,” said Brady, a couple years later, “since they played us.”
Redlands finished 8-14 overall that season, taking fifth place in the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“A lot of us became Villanova fans after we played them,” said Mazarei, adding with a chuckle, “If they beat someone (like Duke or North Carolina), it makes us look better.”
Foye became a No. 1 pick in the 2006 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics, but started his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ray played an NBA season with Boston.
And A Redlands Connection was struck forever.