March 25, 2006

George Mason continues improbable NCAA run

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Unheralded and outmanned George
Mason continued its remarkable run through the NCAA men's
basketball tournament by defeating Wichita State to advance to
the final eight.

A week ago, the 11th seeded Patriots were fending off
critics who said they did not even belong in the 64-team

Now they are the tournament's sentimental choice, the team
underdog lovers are calling their own. During their three upset
wins they have emerged from obscurity to national darling.

"We've having so much fun, it's not like we're in a
situation where we're nervous or have any kind of fear," George
Mason coach Jim Larranaga said after Friday night's 63-55
victory over Wichita State.

"These guys have played basketball their whole lives. They
enjoy being with each other and they enjoy executing the plan
on the court. As long as they can just continue to do that,
anything is possible."

George Mason will play Connecticut on Sunday for the
Washington Regional championship and the right to reach next
week's Final Four in Indianapolis.

The Patriots (26-7) hit their first three shots from behind
the arc to take a quick 9-0 lead over the seventh seeded

Wichita State was victimized by poor shooting, hitting just
four of their first 15 shots, while Folarin Campbell had 11
points on four-for-four shooting to stake George Mason to a
20-9 lead midway through the first half.

The lead grew to 35-19 by halftime and George Mason's lead
was never cut below eight the rest of the way. Wichita State
could not overcome their horrid three-for-24 shooting from
three-point range.


George Mason, a commuter school in Fairfax, Va., just
outside Washington, D.C., were the regular-season champs in the
Colonial Athletic Association but lost in the semi-finals of
the conference tournament -- a sometimes fatal blow to a team
from a mid-major conference seeking an NCAA berth.

"Man, it's been fun," beamed guard Tony Skinn. "It's been a
roller coaster. But I'm just trying to enjoy the moment. The
team is playing great basketball and we just want to keep it

The Patriots quickly proved that their run at the 64-team
tournament was no fluke, shocking sixth seed Michigan State
75-65 in the opening round and then knocking off third seed and
defending champion North Carolina, 65-60.

Now, they're one win from the Final Four. That is
unimaginable for a school that had never won an NCAA Tournament

The victory over Wichita State set off a wild celebration
at the sold-out Verizon Center, just 20 miles from the George
Mason campus.

George Mason's lack of national recognition is not unusual
when considering they are not even well-known in Virginia. In
fact, all five starters are from Maryland.

"We weren't even supposed to be here and now we're in the
Elite Eight," guard Lamar Butler said.

"This is an adrenaline rush from my head to my toes."