REDLANDS -- Cassandra Lacey, the University of Redlands’ SCIAC Player of the Year who was locked in a head-to-head duel at Wisconsin-Whitewater University back on March 6, took an all-out charge from Lady Warhawk senior Aleah Grundahl.

Lacey went down hard. Took a hit on the back of her head. Slow to get up. To the bench. Briefly.

All of which came in the midst of a faraway NCAA Division III Western Regional game on Whitewater’s home court.

Yes, Lacey came back. Scored 26 points. She led the Lady Bulldogs to an eight-point victory in that regional opener.

It was, in fact, also the answer to a question that led to a long-standing coaching cliché that was uttered by Lacey’s veteran coach, Rich Murphy.

“Those kids,” said Murphy, describing a 13-player roster that won this year’s SCIAC title and the team’s first-ever NCAA triumph, “just don’t want to lose.”

That was the evidence: Lacey took the charge. Took the tumble. Took a seat on the bench. Then took the win. Typical, this season.

Example No. 2: Alyssa Downs was, perhaps, Redlands’ second-best player on a team that finished 22-7 overall. When she turned up on this year’s All-SCIAC second-team, don’t think Murphy didn’t use that as motivation by not making first-team honors.

If he did tweek Downs, Murphy turned stuff like that into D3hoops.com West Region Coach of the Year honors. Geographically, the West Region covers virtually half the entire country.

“You get to a point where you see those kids not wanting to lose,” he said. 

Yes, there were the standard platitudes and explanations coming from Redlands’ 13th-year head coach, whose current coaching position is due in part to a guy that unsuccessfully tried to recruit him to play Bulldog hoops a couple decades earlier -- longtime men’s coach Gary Smith.

“He was on the selection committee that hired me,” said Murphy. “I thank him every time I see him. Actually, I saw him about a week ago.”

Region honors could have gone to any number of coaches, including Trine University’s Andy Rang, whose Thunder team knocked Redlands out of the NCAA Tournament in round two.

“Last year around this time,” said Murphy, “I wasn’t thinking I was all that good of a coach. We were 8-8 (in SCIAC play) with pretty much the same team last year that I had this season.”

Slicing away some negative vibes from certain players that fell away from Redlands’ squad, Murphy came back with a roster that not only included Lacey, Downs and Kellis Dack, but also six freshmen.

“Play them,” said Murphy. “That’s how you get them into (a transition from high school into college play).”

That early-season tournament in Kentucky -- narrow losses to No. 21 Whitman (Ore.), No. 10 Transylvania (Ky.) and a 5-1 Southern Virginia squad -- might have lit the fuse for this season, he said.

“Those were highly-ranked teams,” said Murphy, noting losses of two, three and seven points, “that helped our kids realize they could play against anyone.”

When sophomore Hannah Jerrier kicked it into gear around mid-season, he said, “That’s when we really started getting successful.”

There might have been a moment -- trailing Claremont-Mudd College by 13 at halftime on Jan. 15 -- that showcased Murphy’s case for the region’s top coach. Redlands won by two, following that up with two more narrow wins over the Athenas.

Not only did he put in a good case for SCIAC Coach of the Year honors, which he nailed, but beating the Athenas was another nice notch since Claremont has long been one of the nation’s top teams.

Murphy’s Lady Bulldogs have reached the four-team SCIAC Tournament in all of his 13 seasons since taking over at Redlands from Jim Ducey, who’s now the men’s coach.

It was Ducey who replaced Smith. Murphy took over for Ducey.

Lacey, a Phelan Serrano High grad who turned up on the All-West Region second team, got up from her knockdown at Whitewater. Finished that game with 26. Redlands 60, nationally-ranked No. 8 Whitewater 52.

“When you have players like that,” said Murphy, who now has over 200 career coaching triumphs from the Lady Bulldogs’ bench, “it makes it that much easier to coach.”

Murphy might’ve winced a little at Lacey’s tumble. It took a chunk out of her, he said, one night later when Redlands lost to Trine. “She wasn’t the same player,” he said.

By halftime, Redlands was losing by just two points. Those second half shots came up short -- a sign of tiring legs -- in an eventual 69-49 final.

All that travel. Two games in two nights. Only days after back-to-back overtime matchups in the SCIAC Tournament.

Not even a Coach of the Year could withstand all that.

MEN’S COLLEGE HOOPS

Jeremy Smith turned his transfer from California Baptist University to Cal State San Bernardino into a nice senior season.

The point guard, who averaged 17.9 points and 4.9 assists in nearly 36 minutes a game, became the first Coyote to win NCAA Division II All-West Region honors in six years. Smith was a second-team selection.

Cal State, in its second season under coach Andy Newman, rattled off a 21-8 overall record. Despite dropping the first game in the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, the Coyotes were picked to play in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

The season came to a conclusion, however, when the COVID- 19 health threat forced the cancellation of the season.

Smith’s season was no less remarkable, bringing a strong-shooting talent to the Coyotes’ lineup. He hit three game-winning baskets, including finishing off Cal Poly Pomona in one of those games with a career-high 31 points.

* * *

David Menary’s career was capped a few weeks ago when his University of Redlands team lost to Pomona-Pitzer College in the SCIAC Tournament championship game.

Along the way, Menary helped cap the Bulldogs’ season with their first 20-win season in seven years. He scored at a 14.5-point clip, getting a second-team National Association of Basketball Coaches Association honor in the process.

He was a first-team choice All-SCIAC, ending on a run that caught him at nearly 25 points a game, claiming second place in the conference run.

It was his second straight All-SCIAC first-team honor.

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