George Mason-Virginia Preview
These commonwealth rivals meet for the championship Sunday night, and the sixth-ranked Cavaliers will be wary after already losing to an Atlantic 10 foe.
One of the bigger early surprises of the college basketball season was Virginia's 73-68 loss at George Washington on Monday. The Cavaliers (3-1) have bounced back with two victories by an average of 30.0 points in this tournament.
''You grow and you learn,'' coach Tony Bennett said. ''That's what this early season is about. That's what playing multiple games in a short amount of time will reveal to you.''
''I told them, `Hey, the season not over, it's not make or break with the first couple of games,''' coach Dave Paulsen said. ''But it should show that if they all buy in and do what they're supposed to do, we've got a chance to be a pretty decent team.''
The championship marks the first meeting between these teams since George Mason's 63-59 victory Nov. 9, 2012. The Cavaliers captured all seven previous matchups.
Marial Shayok and Anthony Gill each have 27 points in this tournament for the Cavaliers, who are shooting 56.1 percent and holding opponents to 35.1. Shayok scored a career-high 17 in Friday's 87-52 rout of Long Beach State.
Virginia has shown little resemblance to the team that was beaten Monday.
''It was a good wake-up call,'' said Shayok about losing to the Colonials. ''We know what we have to do to play Virginia basketball, to play hard and play for one another."
Virginia got untracked from long range Friday, making 13 of 25 3-point attempts after entering that contest at 30.2 percent. Devon Hall made 4 of 5 3-pointers for 12 points in 15 minutes.
George Mason also shot well from beyond the arc Friday, connecting at a season-high 45.8 percent (11 for 24) in a 71-68 overtime win over the Cowboys.
The Patriots trailed by 10 points midway through the second half before blowing a five-point lead with a minute left in regulation. They recovered by making 6 of 7 shots in the extra period.
''If someone had never seen our team play before, they'd say that team plays as hard as any team in the country with passion,'' Paulsen said. ''Their intelligence down the stretch? Not so much.''
Shevon Thompson has come alive with consecutive double-doubles, totaling 39 points and 33 boards. The center had 11 points and 22 rebounds in his first two games.
George Mason has dropped 11 straight to ranked teams since beating then-No. 18 Kansas State 87-77 on Nov. 22, 2007.