Monday, March 08, 1999

UC'S OPPONENT: GEORGE MASON


Patriots' top missile is Desert Storm vet

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There wasn't much about the game that earned George Mason an NCAA Tournament invitation that its coach would like to see repeated, other than the result.

        The Patriots tossed passes into the stands, forced plays and still managed to defeat Old Dominion for the Colonial Athletic Association championship and an automatic NCAA bid.

GEORGE MASON
ABOUT THE SCHOOL: Location—Fairfax, Va. Nickname—Patriots. Colors—Green and gold.
  • RECORD: 19-10 (13-3 Colonial Athletic Association).
  HOW THEY GOT HERE: Automatic bid, won CAA regular season and tournament.
  • NCAA HISTORY: One previous appearance (1989, first- round loss to Indiana).
  • COACH: Jim Larranaga (second year, 28-28; 226-197 overall). Former Bowling Green coach took a thin, inexperienced team and in two years had the second bid in school history.
  • KEY PLAYERS: 6-foot-7 sophomore George Evans improved upon his league rookie of the year season, averaging 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Point guard Jason Miskiri averages 15.9 points, but had nearly as many turnovers (94) as assists (110) during the regular season.
  • NOTABLE: The Braves' 19 wins this season are as many as in the previous two seasons combined.
        The Patriots (19-10) were seeded 14th and placed opposite the third-seeded UC Bearcats (26-5).

        “We're a team that likes to pressure the basketball, and so there are certain opponents who, if they turn it over, we get some great opportunities in the open court,” Larranaga said. “And we've normally been able to take advantage of that.”

        Against Old Dominion, it might have been the fatigue from playing three games in three days or the pressure of playing for an NCAA bid, but what matters most is that senior guard Jason Miskiri and 6-7 sophomore forward George Evans made the plays to earn GMU its second NCAA Tournament bid and first since 1989.

        Miskiri is a volatile playmaker who averages 15.9 points, shoots .336 from three-point range and turns over the ball nearly once for every assist he records.

        “One of the things we decided to do with Jason was not to try to harness him,” Larranaga said, “to give him the green light and allow him to make decisions on the court. There are times when those decisions may not be in our best interest, but over the long haul, he's done a fantastic job.”

        Though only a sophomore, Evans is the most experienced player who'll compete in the UC-GMU game. He is 27 years old and a veteran of the U.S. Army who decided, after years of service that included time in Operation Desert Storm and a 40-point scoring average for a military base team, he wanted to get a college education.

        When the coach who signed Evans was fired, he took it as a sign he should stay in the Army and told Larranaga he would not be playing for the Patriots. Had he stayed in the service, the college game would not have been treated to his low-post power, which produced 17.8 points per game this season. After visiting the campus — for the first time — he agreed to come.

        “George Evans is a very consistent player,” Larranaga said. “If you've seen George play once, you've seen him play every game.”

        Larranaga previously coached at Bowling Green, where he won 198 games but never the one to put him in the NCAA Tournament.

        With the MAC struggling annually to receive more than the automatic bid that went to its tournament champion, Larranaga reasoned he would be better off at a school “that at least had the resources and facilities to give us a chance to be the best in our league. I thought George Mason had that.”

        Not many figured George Mason had the players to make it happen this quickly. The Patriots finished 9-18 last year and had to rally late in the season to finish above the Colonial basement. They went 13-3 in league play this season.

        George Mason had 2,000 people at the Patriot Center to watch the selection show with their team Sunday. When Larranaga saw GMU set to play the Bearcats in round one, his reaction was clear.

        “My thoughts were that Cincinnati should have been a higher seed. They're a team that has tremendous athletic ability, and they're the only club in the country that's beaten Duke. That should be worth something.”



Bearcats Stories
Bearcats fall to No. 3 in Duke-led East
- UC'S OPPONENT: GEORGE MASON
Who's George Mason? And other musings Paul Daugherty column
Men's NCAA Bracket
UC women get first bid in 10 years
Women's NCAA Bracket

Xavier's bubble bursts
Xavier returns to Toledo
NCAA bid 'a dream' for XU women
Miami bound for Bourbon Street
MIAMI'S OPPONENT: WASHINGTON
Kentucky knows how to win in tournament
UK'S OPPONENT: NEW MEXICO ST.
Ohio State savors invitation
XU goes from hopeful to heartbroken
MEN'S TOURNAMENT OVERVIEW
CBS quick on the draw
National Invitation Tournament schedule
NCAA Tournament schedule
Women's NCAA Tournament schedule