Saturday , Apr , 01 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Notes from the Final Four: Florida vs. George Mason

What’s good, basketball fans?

As has become traditional on the biggest dates in the basketball calendar, I’ll be keeping track of my thoughts throughout the night so that you good folks can read what I would otherwise have simply yelled at the television screen.

All notes are real-time, unedited and uncensored, so if you suffer from a weak disposition, heart or bladder, you might want to check out ESPN’s coverage instead. I’ll be doing the same for the LSU-UCLA game later tonight, so make sure to look out for that article as well.

Notes from the Final Four: Florida vs. George Mason

–         In the interests of full disclosure, I feel obliged to let you know that I’m wearing a Florida shirt at this moment. I had the chance to catch a game in Gainesville a few years back, and I’ve been repping the Gators ever since.
–         J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison make an appearance during the pre-game show and both manage not to cry. Morrison still looks like a member of the Beatles kicked out of the band after some medical tests went wrong.
–         The way certain “analysts” are talking about the game, you’d think that Florida were playing George Mason the Virginia statesman. Given some of their comments, there’s a chance that they know more about him than they do GMU’s basketball program.
–         Who is Lesley Visser and why?
–           Roy Williams is backing Florida in this one, terming them “probably the most complete team in the tournament.” As a sign of support, he also appears to have dyed his skin Gator orange.
–         Roy can’t resist mentioning that there are five UNC alumni in the NBA who could still be playing for him. Can you imagine what their team would have done this year if they were?
–         The approach of the two coaches to the game couldn’t be more different. While Billy Donovan makes a passionate speech about team identity and looking out for one another on the floor, Jim Larranaga inspires his squad by reading a pair of limericks written for the occasion.
–         There once was a team named “Mason”/They captured the hearts of a nation/They arrived at the dome and made it their home/And that caused quite a sensation/
–         There once was a team named “Gator”/That was a Mason-hater/They arrived at the dome, tried to make it their home/But was sent home sooner rather than later/
–         Frankly, at this point of the tournament, a coach could beat a kitten to death with a stick in the locker room and his team would be hyped.
–         Lewis Black’s entertaining segment on bracketology makes me realise how little I want to listen to Greg Gumbel for the next five hours. If they can’t find any legitimate college basketball experts, could they not just run out the cast of The Daily Show?
–         Billy Packer’s head is unnaturally flat. You could lay a tablecloth on that thing and eat your dinner off of it.
–         Will someone please tell them that it’s not pronounced jo-uh-keem?
–          It seems as if every player introduced was booed by a good proportion of the crowd. Even taking into the account the students of the respective schools in attendance, there must be a lot of haters in the house.
–         Mason wins the tip, but Noah swats their first shot attempt out of bounds.
–         Mason draw first blood with a step-back jumper.
–         Florida misses a pair of threes, but steal it back and make their third. I hope that’s not how they intend to play for the rest of the night.
–         As he makes a Tim Duncanesque drive to the hole, it becomes apparent that Noah has difficulty maintaining his handle going left. He puts in a short hook with his left to put Florida up 5-2, though.
–         Butler hits another jumper for GMU to make it 5-4.
–         Florida’s offence looks a little stagnant as they continue to work it inside for one-on-one match-ups.
–         Horford hits a layup, drawing a foul in the process and converting the charity shot for the old-fashioned three-point play.
–         GMU responds to Florida’s strict man-to-man by spreading the floor, resulting in an easy two for Jai Lewis.
–         Skinn shoots an ugly brick, which Florida rebounds and turns into a three for Green.
–         Skinn shoots another awkward jumper, but GMU steal the ball at the other end of the floor before Florida can take a shot.
–         GMU appears to be playing a modified Globetrotter set on the perimeter, moving the ball back and forth by way of a series of hand-offs.
–         Florida has sticky hands, grabbing six offensive rebounds in the opening six minutes. The last of these results in a goofy and-one layup for Brewer which puts them ahead 13-6 after the free throw.
–         At 14:05, the game’s first timeout is called. Right now, Larranaga will be killing his guys for allowing the Gators to bully them on the glass.
–         Florida hits a big three to give them a double-digit lead. It’s a little early to be in such a hole, but at least Mason has time to recover.
–          Hernandez grabs a pair of offensive boards for the Patriots in a single sequence but fails to make anything of them.
–         Campbell makes the smart play by improvising a shot attempt following the reach-in foul by Hodge, resulting in a trip to the stripe for three.
–         He ices all of them, cutting the lead to seven.
–         Florida continues to isolate their big men twelve feet from the goal, but Mason packs the lane, denying them anything in the paint.
–         GMU gets a layup on the break to make it a five-point game.
–         Lewis pulls off his trademark spin move on the block to bring the deficit down to three.
–         Mason fails to inbound the ball and is forced to use up a timeout.  Given their momentum at this stage (they have scored the previous seven points of the game), it may have been better to risk the turnover and let Florida give them back the ball at the other end with a bad shot, as they have done in the last few trips down the floor.
–         GMU: 5-15 from the floor; Florida: 6-18
–         Lewis blows a layup, but Noah gives it back to Mason by fumbling the board into the press row.
–         Brewer shows excellent body control with an acrobatic bank-shot at the other end to stretch the Gators’ lead to five.
–         Skinn fakes his man into the air and finally hits a jumper, making it a one-shot game again.
–         Thomas steals the ball and Campbell hits a ridiculous scoop shot over Noah, which Brewer matches with a contested three mere seconds later.
–         Skinn makes a difficult up-and-under layup on the break to bring it to two.
–         Noah hits the hook off the glass that hadn’t dropped for him earlier.
–         Skinn blows a wide-open layup after taking it coast-to-coast, much to the consternation of the Mason faithful.
–         GMU forces Florida’s sixth turnover in the game and hits a quick fade-away in transition.
–         Skinn’s hot shooting continues as he knocks down a double-clutch layup plus the foul. He may have come out looking a little scared, but he’s definitely worked the nerves out of his system by now.
–         I didn’t sleep a wink last night, but I’m having no trouble staying awake right now. For the record, it’s nearly one in the morning here in England, and the LSU-UCLA game is scheduled to finish at five.
–         What Mason’s big men lack in height, they make up for in breadth.
–         Noah’s woes continue as he shuffles his feet and is called for the walk.
–         He quickly atones for his error with a block at the other end, though, and Green hits an NBA three with a hand in his face on the ensuing possession.
–         Jai Lewis has a superb knowledge of spacing and body position. He blocks out so well that he seems to grab most of his boards without having to leave the floor.
–         Noah misses his third open jumper of the contest. He’d better hope this isn’t his last game of the tournament or his draft stock is going to plummet.
–         Green busts another triple and Florida force a quick turnover as Mason inbound, giving them the ball with 28.7 left in the half and a five-point lead.
–         Brewer misses a three, but GMU knock it off the court yet again, giving Florida another shot at extending their lead. Humphrey misses the baseline three, however, and the half ends 31-26.
–         Billy Donovan talks of the need to work the ball inside more in the second stanza, and I don’t think many would disagree. It’s unlikely that Larranaga will let them have as many decent looks from beyond the arc after the break.
–         Lesley Visser shows up on the screen again, and one of my fish nearly jumps out of the tank behind me. That’s no coincidence.
–         Accepting one of the car company-sponsored Player of the Year awards at the half, Adam Morrison couldn’t look more uncomfortable if someone dropped a scorpion down the back of his shirt.
–         For reasons unbeknownst to me, the channel carrying the Final Four games in England shows a montage of hockey highlights in place of an advert break with a few minutes left before the start of the second half. I hope somebody loses their job for that one.
–         With neither team having thirty on the board yet, the scoring is more to Mason’s liking right now. That said, the Gators – shooting a shade over fifty percent on the season – are bound to improve on their poor offence in the first half and look to turn this into the sort of high-scoring game to which they’re accustomed.
–         As if to prove my point, Humphrey ices a pair of threes within thirty seconds of the restart. Larranaga decides he’s seen enough and uses another timeout.
–         Mason takes a contested three with the clock running down, but Lewis saves them by drawing a foul inside on Noah.
–         He demands the ball in the post and fakes two Gators into the air, drawing another foul, this time on Horford.
–         Humphrey drills another shot (his third in the first three minutes of the half) from outside the arc, this one coming from twenty-six feet.
–         “It’s unlikely that Larranaga will let them have as many decent looks from beyond the arc after the break.” Remember when I said that? Yeah, well I was wrong.
–         GMU inexplicably leaves Humphrey open in the corner, and Folarin Campbell sends him to the line for three shots. Fortunately for Mason, he makes only one of them.
–         Having missed six straight field goals to start the half, Mason is down fifteen, its biggest deficit of the tournament. Still, given what they’ve done thus far in the competition, it’s difficult to count them out even at this stage.
–         Humphrey finally misses one, but Green grabs the loose rebound.
–         Noah travels again, looking a little bemused as he trots back down the floor.
–         He quickly snaps out of his funk, however, cutting through the middle of the lane and receiving the dish for an easy dunk.
–         Noah muscles inside, finishing a slick spin move with a bank shot. He’s finding his groove now, and the lead is up to seventeen. GMU has to be sweating a little at this point.
–         Lewis wakes them up by throwing a no-look pass out of the double team to find Thomas for a vicious two-handed and-one cram.
–         Thirty-two minutes in, the first bench points of the game are scored by Florida. George Mason, with their truncated rotation, looks as if they may go the whole game without a reserve scoring a bucket.
–         Noah has an unusual technique from the free throw line, bringing the ball down into right pectoral before pulling it back over his shoulder. Still, if it goes in, that’s all that counts.
–         Thomas shows surprising agility as he sneaks in for a steal, which ends up with him on the stripe, where he makes his second.
–         Brewer finds himself free after breaking a loose press and throws down a tomahawk slam.
–         Horford has heavy hands, hurling a hook hard off the glass. (Peep the alliteration, kids.)
–         Humphrey makes his fourth triple of the half with a hand in his face, then breaks GMU’s awkward press to find Brewer on the break, who is fouled on the layup and hits both free throws.
–         Lewis throws a pair of defenders aside in the key, grabs a flat-footed board and completes a three-point play. Dude’s a monster in the middle.
–         Thomas flops on Noah, but the officials aren’t having any of it.
–         Lewis tips an errant layup in, then puts another two points on the board ten seconds later off of a nifty pivot move, prompting Billy Donovan to call his guys in for a chat. Lewis looks like an undersized Jahidi White with better basketball instincts. He also looks as if he could tear a telephone directory in half with his teeth.
–         Butler doubles down on Horford, sending him to the line with a hack on the arm.
–         Lewis fakes a hand-off and dances into the lane, where he loses his footing and turns the ball over with a travel. It would have been a highlight if he’d kept his balance.
–         Brewer takes it to the rim and has his shot attempt sent back hard.
–         Fired up by the defensive play, GMU hits their first three of the night.
–         As if to say “Anything you can do, I can do better”, Humphrey swishes his fifth from downtown in fifteen minutes of second-half play.
–         Noah is called for his third walk of the game. I would say that it’s something he should look to correct, but he won’t have to worry about it if he makes the NBA.
–         Exploiting Florida’s switch to a zone, Mason’s second consecutive triple is nothing but nylon.
–         Brewer passes up a three for a drive to the hole, a wise decision given that he draws Jai Lewis’ third foul of the evening. Since there doesn’t seem to be much they can do to keep him from taking up all the space he wants in the paint, Florida’s best bet is to challenge him in the hope that he’ll pick up another cheap foul or two. His line is thirteen, ten and four at this point, but he’s done far more that won’t show up in the box.
–         The Gators run an intricate curl play at the half having forced a GMU backcourt violation. It seemed a little unnecessary simply to inbound the ball, but I appreciated it.
–         Skinn fouls Green forty feet from the hoop and they exchange words as they untangle themselves from one another. The referees reward them with a technical foul apiece, stating their intention to keep the game from becoming overly physical at this late stage.
–         With a fourteen-point lead and under three minutes left in the game, Florida manages to run nearly two minutes off the clock by grabbing three straight offensive boards, leaving Mason with a seemingly insurmountable deficit.
–         Larranaga seems to accept that the game is over, running out his bench while Jai Lewis sits with his jersey pulled over his head.
–         That’s the game, 73-58.
–         There’s no greater testament to George Mason University’s basketball team than the fact that I can’t properly enjoy a Final Four victory by my Florida Gators. Although they didn’t make it all the way, they nonetheless did their school, city, state and conference proud with their performance throughout these past few weeks. Winning might be everything in this game, but Mason can take consolation in that they’ve claimed some of the biggest scalps in the 2006 tournament, showing themselves to be a class act along the way.
Anyway, that’s enough sentimentality from this guy. I have to get right back down to business now with the UCLA-LSU game, which you can find linked to the right of your screen. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions on this article, feel free to get at me via the comment box below or by emailing me at [email protected].