George Mason's Cinderella Story

The Final Four has been dominated by college basketball's big boys for more than a quarter of a century, with powerful teams and tournament-tested conferences gathering at the end of the season to sort out the champion.

Well, this year will be a little different.

The main culprit is George Mason, a commuter school in suburban Virginia that never had won a single game in the NCAA tournament until two weeks ago.

Also headed to the national semifinals next weekend in Indianapolis: LSU, Florida and UCLA. Like George Mason, LSU and Florida never have won an NCAA title; UCLA dominated college basketball by winning 10 in the 1960s and 1970s, but had fallen on harder times of late.

Seeded 11th in their quarter of the field, George Mason is the first team since 1986 to be slated that low and reach the Final Four. And they're the biggest outsider — no basketball tradition to speak of, not a member of a major conference, no superstar player — since Ivy League school Penn made it in 1979.

"While every available number insists this was an upset — from the Top 25 to the NCAA Tournament seedings to the recruiting ranking of each player on both rosters — the eyeballs tell you something else," writes CBS Sportsline.com's Gregg Doyel. "George Mason beat UConn because George Mason was better than UConn."

How did they do it? With a string of consistent, defensive-minded performances, the latest an 86-84 overtime victory over top-seeded Connecticut in the Washington Regional final Sunday.

"We don't mind being the Cinderella," George Mason guard Tony Skinn said.

Apparently, there was more than one pair of glass slippers lying around. This is the first time since 1980 that none of the four teams seeded No. 1 reached the Final Four.

George Mason now faces No. 4-seeded Florida, which knocked off another No. 1 seed, Villanova, 75-62 in the Minneapolis Regional final.

In next Saturday's other Final Four game, No. 4-seeded LSU will play No. 2-seeded UCLA. Led by gregarious and 310-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis, LSU won the Oakland Regional final by beating No. 2 seed Texas 70-60 in overtime Saturday. UCLA defeated No. 1 seed Memphis 50-45 at the Atlanta Regional.

"Nobody could have predicted what we've seen — not just this afternoon, but this whole tournament," NCAA selection committee chairman Craig Littlepage said on the court after George Mason cut the nets down to celebrate. "It's affirmation that this is a great game."

As anyone who's ever participated in an NCAA pool at the office knows, there always are upsets at this event. Hence the term, "March Madness."
  • Gina Pace

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