Villanova looks to reverse NCAA slump against George Mason

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The Wildcats set the national championship benchmark for unheralded teams. The program is not alone in improbable runs to the Final Four.

No recent team captured America’s attention _ and busted office brackets _ like the Patriots in 2006. George Mason made the field this year as an at-large team for the first time since it stormed past Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to thrust the program into the national spotlight.

Unlike some March darlings, coach Jim Larranaga hasn’t let the team fade into obscurity. The Patriots returned to the tournament in 2008 (lost in the first round) and set a school record this year with 16 straight wins before losing in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals.

This is the first time in six NCAA tournaments the Patriots are a single-digit seed.

George Mason guard Andre Cornelius and forward Luke Hancock practiced after they were injured on Tuesday. Cornelius limped off with a trainer and Hancock was wheeled off with the shoe removed from his left foot. Larranaga didn’t expect the injuries to be an issue.

Larranaga, the CAA coach of the year, talked nearly as much about the ‘06 team as this year’s team that put a 14-0 home record and 20 wins by 10-plus points on their resume.

“I never get tired of talking about ‘06,” he said. “Who would get tired of people talking about a great time in your life? It just brings back great memories every time it’s mentioned.”

He wants the Patriots to believe they can duplicate that feat. Cam Long, Ryan Pearson and Isaiah Tate laughed at each question about 2006. They were in high school and had nothing to do with that run _ and everything to do with sustained success the last five years.

“We’re just trying to build our own legacy and have our own identity,” Pearson said. “We’re just trying to make them, well, not forget about it, but talk about this year’s George Mason team and what they’re going to do in the NCAA tournament.”

One look at Massimino huddled up with the Wildcats and it’s clear no one can ever forget those special tournament teams.

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