Cinderella wants the storybook ending

Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The day before George Mason left for Dayton, Ohio to face Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Jim Larranaga gathered his team at midcourt. Larranaga told the Patriots to go out and have more fun than any other team in the NCAA Tournament.
"When I said that I'm not exactly sure what I meant," Larranaga said Friday. "Boy, it's sure been true. It's been an absolutely fantastic magic carpet ride."
George Mason hopes to continue its fantastic voyage tonight when it faces Florida in the Final Four. The Patriots (27-7) appeared a loose bunch Friday at the RCA Dome. This was evidenced by senior Lamar Butler, who peeked through a curtain to see the massive interview room inside the RCA Dome.
"I can't believe how big this room is," Butler said.
It may appear as though the Patriots are simply content being here. They say otherwise.
"This is a business trip," Butler said. "We didn't come here just to come to the Final Four, visit, take pictures. We came here to play the Florida Gators and win the game. That's our goal right now."
Many pundits said George Mason shouldn't have been included in the 65-team field when it was announced three weeks ago. The Patriots have proved they belong.
George Mason's wild ride to the Final Four began with a 75-65 win over Michigan State in the first round. The Patriots played the game without starting point guard Tony Skinn, who served a one-game suspension after punching a Hofstra player in the groin during the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Skinn returned to help George Mason defeat North Carolina 65-60 in the second round. The Patriots then breezed past Wichita State, 63-55, in the Sweet 16 before overcoming a nine-point, halftime deficit to shock top-seeded Connecticut, 86-84, in overtime Sunday.
"A lot of us might not have been highly recruited," George Mason junior Gabe Norwood said. "But we've played against guys of (Florida's) stature. It's not one of those things you could be intimidated by. If you love the game you should be having fun with it."
And that's the message Larranaga has been sending to his team. Have fun. That won't be hard tonight considering George Mason has quickly become the fan-favorite.
"We kind of feel that," Butler said. "Nobody expected us to get in the tournament. For us to get into the Final Four, people have something to cheer for. We're the Dallas Cowboys of the 2006 era."

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