- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

George Mason has four key players who have been down this road before, and we're not just talking I-95.
Center Jesse Young and forwards Rob Anderson, Jon Larranaga and Terrance Nixon the heart and soul of this season's Patriots were members of two previous George Mason teams (1999, 2001) that won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and the automatic NCAA berth that goes with it. They know what it takes to win three games in three days and qualify for the Big Dance.
Plus, this quartet comprises four of George Mason's top five scorers.
Today at Richmond Coliseum, the second-seeded Patriots (19-8, 13-5 CAA) begin defense of their CAA crown when they play in the CAA tournament quarterfinals against Hofstra, which defeated Towson 72-52 yesterday.
"I think that is going to help, especially with us having that experience and helping out the other guys and kind of showing them the way and telling them not to be worried, just go out there and play," said Young, a 6-foot-10 first-team All-CAA selection.
With so much veteran savvy on the floor at the same time, George Mason should be considered the favorite to win the tournament, even though UNC Wilmington (19-9, 14-4) is the tournament's top seed for the second year in a row.
Last season the Patriots advanced to the NCAA tournament as a No.2 seed and defeated the top-seeded Seahawks 35-33 in the championship game.
"We still feel like we're the hunted," Anderson said. "We've felt like the hunted since the beginning of the season. We're the returning champions, so we know everyone gets up to play us."
The Patriots are playing their best basketball at the right time. George Mason is on a three-game winning streak and an 8-1 run, with four of those victories on the road.
Coach Jim Larranaga said he spends time early in the season looking at combinations, making adjustments and plotting strategy. Come late January and early February, George Mason's fifth-year coach says he quits making changes and concentrates solely on getting his team better at what it does best.
"And then you have to play well at the end of the season," he said. "That's the whole key. We've been playing well and just keep doing it. A lot of these [experienced] guys are responsible for getting us to the NCAA tournament. I think they've stepped up into a much more major role this year."
George Mason's balanced scoring also helps. Four starters average in double figures. Young, who averages 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds, leads the Patriots, but Anderson (12.1 points), Jon Larranaga (10.8) and freshman guard Lamar Butler (10.6) are significant contributors. There is no high-profile scorer but a lot of scoring options all over the floor.
The Patriots are buoyed by the fact they have beaten every team in the conference at least once this season. George Mason went 13-5 in conference play and posted the school's first overall winning record on the road (7-6) in more than a decade.
Four times this season, the Patriots have rolled off winning streaks of three or more games. The CAA tournament format appears tailor-made for them.
"Actually, we play better when we really don't have time to practice, when we're just playing games and everything and just get into a kind of flow or groove," said Jon Larranaga, the coach's son.

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