- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

George Mason is no longer the cute little underdog. The Patriots, by golly, are going to the Final Four.

The suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., beat top-seeded Connecticut 86-84 in overtime today in the Washington Regional final, ending the stranglehold that big-time programs have enjoyed for 27 years in college basketball’s biggest showcase.

They lacked in size, athleticism and history relative to their opponent, but the 11th-seeded Patriots made up for it with tenacity.

Buoyed by a partisan crowd and playing some 20 miles from their campus, George Mason rallied after trailing by 12 late in the first half and nine early in the second. They hit six straight 3-pointers in the second half, shot 5-for-6 in overtime and outrebounded a UConn team with three starters taller than any of the Patriots frontcourt players.

The Patriots became the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU’s run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986. The Colonial Athletic Association team is the first true outsider to crash the Final Four since Penn and Indiana State both got there in 1979. The Patriots celebrated after the final horn by standing on the press row table and saluting their fans.

All five Mason starters finished in double figures. Jai Lewis had 20, and Lamar Butler and Will Thomas each scored 19. Jim Larranaga’s team kept the same five players in the game from the 10:37 mark of regulation to the very end of overtime.

George Mason (27-7), having by far the best season in school history, had never won an NCAA tournament game until it beat half of last year’s Final Four - Michigan State and No. 3 seed North Carolina - back-to-back in the first two rounds. Now it can say it has beaten the last two national champions - Connecticut (30-3) and North Carolina.

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