BOSTON — Ever since the fall, you couldn't catch Villanova junior guard Reggie Redding without his beaded bracelet.
"A friend at school said the girl she babysits for made it for her and I asked if I could have it," he said. "I don't go anywhere without it. It's kind of like my good-luck charm."
"Maybe," he paused as he mulled it over, "because of what it says."
He then slightly twisted the austere bracelet so you could read what the seven tiny beads spelled out:
To Redding, that has been a constant reminder of what's required to develop as a team; a team that has defied expectations, improved markedly in the latter stages of the season and advanced to this weekend's Final Four in Detroit where it will meet North Carolina.
You have to believe in your coaches.
You have to believe in one another.
You have to believe in what you can and must do.
"He has stepped up," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Redding, who was involved in two of the biggest plays in Saturday's thrilling East Region finale against top-seeded Pittsburgh, including the game-winner. "He's one of the guys making our team better because he's getting better every day."
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Redding came to Villanova with the reputation as an offensive machine. But at Villanova, he has been reluctant to do what he had done so well: shoot the ball.
"It's shocked me. I think it's a confidence thing," said Speedy Morris, the former La Salle coach who coached Redding at Saint Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia.
Same for Wright, who has repeatedly assured Redding that he has a green light to shoot and the team needs him to.
Redding, 20, told him he would take it "under consideration," which Wright said is Redding being the quintessential "Philly player," someone who prides himself on winning by making the smart play, not the flashy, attention-grabbing one.
"Coach Morris told me I wasn't going to play (for the Wildcats) if I wasn't going to play defense, and I was so focused on that, it's not that I forgot how to score, but I kind of lost that scoring mentality," he said.
He was still impacting the game. Consider the job he did on Duke star guard Gerald Henderson in the Sweet 16 matchup last week. Henderson was 1-for-14 from the field, scoring seven.
"Reggie's a defensive animal, a lock-down guy," senior forward Dante Cunningham said.
Redding scored 13 against UCLA in the NCAA second round and then 11 against the Blue Devils to push his average to 6.9. Against Pitt, he stayed aggressive, especially in the dramatic final seconds.
With the Wildcats nursing a two-point lead, Redding, who thinks several moves ahead as if he were playing chess, inexplicably tried a length-of-the-court inbounds pass. It wasn't the first option that Wright had, and it turned into a turnover. Pitt tied the score with 5.5 seconds left.
"What we wanted Reggie to learn from that was we'd always rather our guys make an aggressive mistake and not be afraid to make a big play," Wright said.
Redding has learned that. And how. He shook off that gaffe and came right back with a difficult inbounds pass to Cunningham, his fourth option on the play, near midcourt.
"A player who makes a mistake and just thinks about the next play, that's a good player," Morris said. "That's what Reggie does."
Cunningham pitched the ball hook-and-ladder style to junior guard Scottie Reynolds, who drove and hit the winning shot in the lane with 0.5 seconds.
"Actually, a couple of other guys on that play did not execute right and they left Reggie in a tough position," Wright said. "But he had the confidence, again, to trust himself and make that play."
"I just go out there," added Redding, "and do what I've got to do to help this team win."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.