Sunday, March 26, 2006

The worst great team in the NCAA?

It's over. Of all upsets, George Mason, a #11 seed, beat UConn. And GMU did it in OVERTIME -- in other words, it had to play what should have been the best team in college hoops for FIVE EXTRA MINUTES and still won. The score -- eerily identical to the result UConn suffered in the Big East Tournament: an 86-84 loss in OT; a 74-74 tie after regulation.

UConn led by 9 at halftime. But GMU rallied, took the lead and controlled the game down the stretch. If Tony Skinn had nailed his free throws with 5 seconds left, GMU would have won in regulation. UConn had to rally with two baskets in the last 7 seconds of regulation to force George Mason, a #11 seed without future NBA players like Rashad Anderson, Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams, to overtime.

GMU is now the second #11 to reach the Final Four, the third team seeded higher than a #8 to reach the Final Four, and matched LSU's feat of becoming the lowest-seeded team to knock off a #1 seed. Unlike the Kentucky team that LSU nicked in '86, which was perhaps the third-best team of the four #1 seeds (the country's two best during the course of the season had been Duke and Kansas), UConn was one of the co-favorites to win the whole thing.

So kudos to the Colonials, the first team from a non-major conference to reach the Final Four since Indiana State -- yes, THAT Indiana State, the one with Larry Bird. They're a testimony to grit, solid skill and great motivation.

And a black mark for UConn, which had shown weak defense (opposing FG% near 50% -- a level GMU topped today), weak will and a lack of a killer instinct in barely beating two teams, Kentucky and Washington, that it should have blown off the court. Having the best player on the court for UConn (Rudy Gay) has meant very little in this Tournament. And for the embattled #1 seed to go out like this is pretty poor form.

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