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Midnight for Cinderella at College Basketball's Big Dance


George Mason University has been eliminated from the men's college basketball national championship tournament after riding a wave of upset victories. The school from northern Virginia will long be remembered for its achievement.

Few fans expected George Mason to emerge from the first round of the annual 65-team tournament. The school's basketball team had never won a game in the so-called Big Dance in three previous appearances.

But with wins over the two previous national champions, Connecticut in 2004 and North Carolina in 2005, plus victories over Michigan State and Wichita State, George Mason reached the rarefied air of the Final Four. And that is where the team was finally stopped by Florida, 73-58.

Guard Tony Skinn says his team is an inspiration to all of the schools from second-tier divisions.

"We have done something tremendous for college basketball," said Skinn. "For the teams that are out there who watched us play, just to show them that all you need is an opportunity and a chance. And you just have to go out there and play good basketball"

George Mason coach Jim Laranaga says even he was surprised by the determination his players showed on the court.

"They probably have opened up the eyes of many people, including myself. You do not have to have seven footers [players two meters, 13 centimeters tall] on your team or be the biggest and strongest team to have a great basketball team," said Laranaga.

Guard Lamar Butler is also pleased with the knowledge that teams in the future will always remember the 2006 George Mason squad.

"Whenever you talk about the Final Four, you have to mention us making it to the Final Four. This is history. We have changed the face of college basketball," added Butler.

It may be many years before another second-tier team advances this deep in the national championship tournament. But the success of the George Mason Patriots may inspire a similar accomplishment to happen a lot sooner.

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