By George, they did it!
Underdog George Mason shocks top-ranked UConn
Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 11:09AM; Updated: Tuesday July 17, 2007 1:21PM
Editor's note: We asked SI.com writers to share their memories from the best game they've ever seen. Here are their stories:
I've covered no shortage of exciting football and basketball games over the years and I've witnessed some stunning upsets. But there's only that made me feel exhilarated and charmed to have been there: George Mason's Elite Eight upset of Connecticut in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
By blind luck, I was somehow assigned to both of the Patriots' first two tournament sites, Dayton and Washington, D.C., I watched them knock off heavyweight North Carolina and dispatch fellow mid-major Wichita State, and along the way I came to enjoy hanging around gregarious coach Jim Larranaga and his cast of loquacious and genuinely happy-to-be-here players. I appreciated that they were a bona fide basketball team, not some little-engine-that-could.
But I held no delusions that Jai Lewis, Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn could beat a UConn team that featured future first-round draft picks Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone. Plenty of Cinderellas have graced the tournament over the years -- Gonzaga in 1999, Kent State in 2002 -- but the Elite Eight was always the round where the story came to an end.
It was of little surprise to those of us on press row when the Huskies controlled most of the first half, going up by as many as 12 just before halftime. While the decidedly pro-Mason crowd stayed upbeat, you couldn't help but feel the party was on its last legs.
But then something unexpected happened: Mason came out on fire to start the second half. By the 12:33 mark the Patriots had tied it, and a minute later they'd taken the lead. What transpired from there was flat-out epic. Back and forth the teams traded blows, and during one particularly frenetic seven-minute stretch without a timeout, the lead changed hands eight times. With each minute that passed, you could feel a collective nervousness building throughout the Verizon Center. Patriots reserve Chris Fleming described it to me afterward: "Jesus," he thought. "This is really happening."
The play that will always stand out my mind, however, was one that, at the time, appeared to spell doom for the Patriots. After Skinn missed the front-end of a one-and-one with six seconds left, UConn's Denham Brown came down the court, threw up a ridiculous, acrobatic lay-in at the buzzer... and it went in. The play happened right in front of me, and I was sitting behind the Huskies' bench, where the entire team went ballistic. At that point I figured there was no way Mason would recover. But it did. Mason controlled the entire overtime and won 86-84. As the players went nuts and the band blared Living on a Prayer, you couldn't help but get the chills.
On paper, it was one of the most improbable upsets we'll ever see. And yet, if you watched the game, you know this was no Villanova over Georgetown (where the Wildcats had to shoot a ridiculous 79 percent to pull off the upset in the 1985 title game) or Princeton back-dooring UCLA to death in '96. In fact, UConn played far better in this game than it had two nights earlier against Washington, turning it over just nine times. On the court, it was simply two great teams making one big play after another. It just so happened that the team that won was a No. 11 seed.
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