April 2, 2006 in Sports

Gators jar Mason back to reality

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

INDIANAPOLIS – George Mason finally acted its size.

America’s favorite underdog looked more like the midmajor it is instead of the spunky team that crashed the Final Four in a 73-58 loss to Florida on Saturday night. The Patriots missed dozens of easy shots inside, were dismal from 3-point range, and had none of the swagger and spunk that carried them through the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament.

Forget all those renditions of “Livin’ on a Prayer” the George Mason band played. The Patriots needed some shots to fall against the bigger Gators, and they came up woefully short.

“We were getting the shots we wanted. They just weren’t going down,” said Will Thomas, who scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. “Hats off to their defense, but we just couldn’t make our shots.”

The Patriots endeared themselves to the country during their improbable run to Indianapolis. A commuter school from Fairfax, Va., in the Colonial Athletic Association, George Mason had never won an NCAA tournament game before this year. No way it could hold its own against the likes of North Carolina and Michigan State – half of last year’s Final Four – and Connecticut, the season-long favorite to win the title.

But that’s exactly what the Patriots (27-8) did – and more. George Mason knocked off all three powerhouses to become the first true outsider to reach the Final Four since Indiana State and Penn in 1979. It also was the lowest seed to reach the Final Four since LSU, also an 11th seed, made it in 1986.

The Patriots swore they weren’t simply going to be happy to be at the Final Four. The players and their quirky, colorful coach, Jim Larranaga, oozed confidence all week, saying they wouldn’t be intimidated by basketball’s biggest stage or third-seeded Florida.

But maybe reality finally set in. Or, more likely, it was the talent disparity between the little guys from the small league and the big boys from the power conference.

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