Final Four Full of Surprises
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
College basketball's final four will include the team that got those cheers yesterday, Go Patriots!
George Mason University, the Virginia School defeated top-seed Connecticut in overtime 86 to 84, yet another unexpected win for George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.
Mr. JIM LARRANAGA (Basketball coach for George Mason University): I think it's what college athletics is all about. It's fantastic for everybody associated with the University.
INSKEEP: George Mason, by the way, is named after a man who attended the constitutional convention, and this year is the only year that his namesake has won an NCAA tournament game since that convention in 1787.
Commentator John Feinstein joins us now.
Good morning John.
Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Sports commentator and author): Good morning Steve.
INSKEEP: You know, the last time we talked we said it would be enough that George Mason had won a couple of games in the tournament, but apparently they didn't think so.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: No, no, they really didn't. Cinderella did not go to the Sweet 16 to lose her glass slipper. I've been at a lot of basketball games through a lot of years, Steve, I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like yesterday's game against Connecticut.
In this sense, not only were they an eleventh seed playing the favorite to win the National Championship, not only were they down 12 in the first half and came back, but Connecticut made a shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation to tie the game that should have broken George Mason's heart, should have made it impossible for them to win in overtime.
And their coach, Jim Larranaga, who you just heard, looked at the players on the bench and said, Fellas, there's no place I'd rather be than here in this building coaching you right now. We didn't play defense for five seconds, now we have to play for five more minutes. And somehow they did. It's an amazing story Steve.
INSKEEP: How did they get through those five minutes?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Because they found--so they knew they could play against these guys. They'd proven it for 40 minutes. And a lot of teams that lose the lead at the end of regulation--it happened to the University of Washington Friday night against Connecticut--lose their heart when they blow the lead at the very end. George Mason didn't. They hit five out of the six shots they attempted in the overtime period, which is extraordinary under any circumstances, but under these circumstances its beyond extraordinary, if that's possible.
INSKEEP: Now we have to mention, this is not the only surprise in the final four. George Mason will play Florida, which was not really expected to get there. Louisiana State against UCLA. Nobody expected any of this.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: No, none of the number one seeds made it to the final four. First time since 1980 that none of them made it. So George mason now plays Florida, which as you mentioned, beat Villanova, the top seed in its region yesterday. Louisiana State beat Duke and Texas, the number one and number two seeds. And UCLA, which used to be a perennial in the final four, made it for the first time in eleven years by coming from way back to beat Gonzaga in the round of 16 and then top-seeded Memphis.
It was a remarkable weekend. George Mason just overshadows what these other teams did.
INSKEEP: Didn't you say last time that it was possible, you didn't predict, but you said it was possible that the top seeds could all make the final four?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, I said it was possible because they were all playing...
Mr. FEINSTEIN: ...but, I did say that I didn't expect them all to be there. However, I certainly didn't expect none of them to be there. So I was somewhere in the middle on my prediction, which for me is pretty good, Steve.
INSKEEP: Better than I would have done.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well better than I normally do. My last correct prediction I think was in 1972. But this was just an amazing story for George Mason to be in the final four.
It reminds me a little bit of that old Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse that Roared. The mouse is, they're the country of Grand Fenwick and they've invaded the United States in this case.
INSKEEP: Yes or no question: would you predict a National Championship for George Mason?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: I wouldn't predict it, but I'm telling you, at this point, nothing this team does would shock me. They're capable of winning. Whether they have it in their tank to win two more games, I don't know. But if they somehow were to pull it off, it's the U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid, Steve, that's how amazing it is.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much. The comments of John Feinstein.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.