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NCAA - WASHINGTON UConn presents tall task for G.M.


Published: Sat, March 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


George Mason is the last mid-major team left in the tournament.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- George Mason is alone to carry the flag. Bradley and Wichita State are gone from the NCAA tournament, leaving the Patriots as the last "Where is that?" school from a "What is that?" conference with a chance to crack a Final Four monopoly that has existed for 27 years.
But the last step is a doozy.
Sure, Jim Larranaga's team has dispatched half of last year's Final Four, but Michigan State lacked the toughness of past seasons and North Carolina relied heavily on freshmen.
The round of 16 victory on Friday came against fellow mid-major Wichita State, hardly an upset considering the Patriots were playing only a few miles from home.
Now there is Connecticut, the region's top seed and possibly the best team left in the tournament.
The Huskies are taller and more athletic than the Patriots.
They have a bevy of players who will be NBA-bound, while Mason's best hope for a player turning pro is probably Jai Lewis, whose deft footwork and 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame has caught the attention of NFL scouts.
UConn (30-3) is good enough to win even when it plays horribly for long stretches, as happened in its 26-turnover performance in Friday's overtime victory over Washington.
"We're facing a team that has all the makings of a Michigan State and a North Carolina in terms of athletic ability, rebounding ability, scoring ability," Larranaga said Saturday. "We're going to have to do all the things we did in those games combined."
Outsiders
Should the incredible happen in today's game, George Mason (26-7) would become the biggest outsider in the Final Four since Penn and Larry Bird's Indiana State team both got there in 1979.
The 11th-seeded Patriots would also become only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU's run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986.
"Quite frankly, if the name on our jersey was not George Mason," Larranaga said, "if it was Georgia Tech from the ACC, everyone would look at this differently, what we've done in the tournament. ... There's a preconceived notion that because you were not able to do it before, you should not be able to do it now."
Flip the calendar back a couple of weeks, and here's how it looked for George Mason: A suspended starter, zero NCAA tournament wins in school history, and a considerable amount of doubt as to whether the Patriots deserved an at-large bid. The school has never been ranked in the AP's Top 25, and the votes it received in the poll this year were thought to be the first in school history.
"It's been a roller coaster ride," said guard Tony Skinn, who was forced to sit out the first-round win over Michigan State as punishment for punching a player in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. "But at the same time, you're not ready to pinch yourself yet because you know you're still winning. We're so deep into the tournament right now, it's like we can't be satisfied."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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