George Mason Stuns NCAA with Place in Final Four

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Folarin Campbell

Folarin Campbell, a starting guard for the George Mason Patriots, signs T-shirts in the university's student center Monday, a day after the team's 86-84 overtime victory against Connecticut won it a spot in the Final Four. Eric Niiler, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Niiler, NPR

George Mason University is the Cinderella team of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The 11th seed Patriots stunned top-ranked Connecticut on Sunday to make it to the Final Four next weekend in Indianapolis.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It's considered one of the biggest upsets in the NCAA tournament's history. Last night a commuter school in suburban Washington D.C. knocked off the nation's top-ranked college basketball team, the University of Connecticut. George Mason University is becoming known as a giant killer in the NCAA.

Reporter Eric Niiler is covering the joy in Fairfax, Virginia.

ERIC NIILER reporting:

Last night, the tree-lined campus of George Mason University turned into a traffic jam of happy basketball fans.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering and horns honking)

And who could blame them? Over the past two weekends, eleventh-seeded George Mason beat Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State. Last night they out-rebounded and out-shot the taller and stronger University of Connecticut Huskies in the regional finals at Washington's Verizon Center.

Sophomore guard Folarin Campbell scored 15 points. This afternoon, Campbell lounged about the student center dressed in his shiny team athletic suit and ball cap, signing yellow and green t-shirts for adoring fans.

Campbell said the team's success comes from being relaxed and listening to coach Jim Larranaga.

Mr. FOLARIN CAMPBELL (George Mason basketball player): Coach does a good job of keeping us loose, you know. He makes sure, you know, we go out there, and makes sure we have (unintelligible), make sure we go out there calm, poised. I mean anything is possible with this team, so we feel as though we could win the whole thing.

NIILER: Winning the whole thing would be good for everyone on campus, according to Nick Desimone, who's on the golf team. He said the basketball team's success raises the profile of all George Mason athletes.

Mr. NICK DESIMONE (George Mason golf team member): We weren't known before this. And golfing's having a good season too, plus this added on should bring it some good recruits in the next few years.

NIILER: Recruiting new students is the job of Andrew Flagel, Dean of Admissions at George Mason.

Mr. ANDREW FLAGEL (Dean of Admissions, George Mason University): The phones have been ringing off the hook. We are flooded with phone calls. We had over 300 people here for tours on Saturday. We expect that number to grow exponentially each day as we continue to be covered.

NIILER: Flagel says the national spotlight allows George Mason to showcase its academics and its student body, which includes new immigrants from around the world.

Mr. FLAGEL: It gives us the chance to attract the kind of attention that we couldn't possibly do through marketing or recruitment efforts.

NIILER: That may be true for now, but the father of one prospective student wasn't so sure about all the hoopla. He said what's more important for his daughter is small classes and good professors.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Niiler.

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