Cinderella meets the Gators

Stopping briefly to sign autographs, Joakim Noah is swarmed after the Florida Gators' practice on Friday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Think the players from George Mason are thrilled to be at the Final Four?
While his coach was speaking to the media from a raised stage, Patriots guard Lamar Butler pulled back the official NCAA blue curtain with one hand while holding an official NCAA Dasani cup in the other, his face plastered with a smile.
"I was just looking at how big the room was," he said. "Never seen this many people here just to ask questions and write a story."
Minutes later, as his session with the media ended, Butler asked for the cardboard name tag hanging in front of him.
"After the tournament is over," he was told.
George Mason is the story of the tournament, a team that was a questionable entry into the event but is one of four still playing.
It's a story Florida would like to see come to an end.
The Gators will be gunning for their 10th straight win today and a berth in the national title game when they face the Patriots at 6:07 p.m.
"It's time to kiss Cinderella and send her home," Florida forward Corey Brewer said.
George Mason will get most of the fan support in the semifinal game at the RCA Dome. Who doesn't root for the underdog?
"If I were a fan, I'd probably be cheering for them, too," Brewer said. "But you can't get caught up in it."
While the Patriots, seeded 11th in their regional, are improbable visitors to the Final Four, the Gators are trying to use the same mentality that was their mantra when the season began.
"We still feel like we're the underdogs," point guard Taurean Green said. "We have something to prove to everybody still."
Said center Al Horford, "They've had a good run, but all good things must come to an end. Ya know what I'm saying?"
Florida is a six-point favorite to advance and take on the winner of the second semifinal between LSU and UCLA. Amazingly, a team that was not supposed to be one of Billy Donovan's best when the season began is now being picked by national writers as the favorite to emerge with a trophy from the season's final weekend.
"I think when you started the year and you said, listen, Florida and George Mason are going to be playing each other in the national semifinal, I think a lot of people would have said, 'Come on,' " Donovan said. "(George Mason) is a great story. But we have no control over that. I think our guys understand that at 6 o'clock, the ball is going to get thrown up, they look at it as being a 40-minute game."
Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053.

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