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Final Four Teams Known For Strength, Rivalries


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: Tonight, the party begins on Bourbon Street. Hey, wait. Do parties on Bourbon Street ever end? Anyway, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is down to its Final Four teams. They're four famous basketball programs and the women's Final Four starts tomorrow night in Denver with another quartet of traditional powerhouses.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman Tom joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And let's start with that - first with the game, the Civil War in a border state: Kentucky versus Louisville. And like any civil war, a whole lot of story lines run though this.


GOLDMAN: Yeah, like the dialysis dustup this week. This is...

SIMON: I read about that - my gosh.

GOLDMAN: This is the darker side of what Governor Beshear was just talking about. As you know, the dialysis center in Kentucky, one patient punched another who was hooked up to a dialysis machine because they were arguing about the game - not cool.

In the words of the great sportswriter Dave Kindred who spent a dozen years working in Kentucky: This matchup is biblical. It's Armageddon, only more serious.


GOLDMAN: They played this season. Kentucky won by seven...


SIMON: I just got that, yes.

GOLDMAN: Ba-boom. Sorry, I'll wait. Kentucky is the heavy favorite. You know, Scott, but who can never tell in a rivalry game especially in the bright lights of the Final Four? And if there's one coach who can be Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari, some say it's Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino, who coached the Wildcats to the championship back in the '90s. Look for Pitino to bring his trademark pressure defense to try to tire and rattle the more-talented Wildcats in that one.

SIMON: And let me ask about the other matchup, Jayhawks versus Buckeyes, Kansas vs. Ohio State.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, these two teams also met earlier this season. Kansas won by 11 but Ohio State played without its star big man Jared Sullinger. A lot of attention on the big men in this game, Sullinger and Jayhawks' Thomas Robinson; they will play a big part. I'm interested in the point guard matchup. The Buckeyes have Aaron Craft. He harasses opponents. He's tough and annoying. A teammate likened him to a little rat. He forces turnovers. And Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor can be prone to turnovers. So this matchup could be key.

SIMON: Yeah. Enough about the guys. Now, you're about to fly out to Denver to cover the women's Final Four. By the way, United Airlines, if you're listening, please upgrade Mr. Goldman - our compliments.


GOLDMAN: I'm already first-class.

SIMON: A (unintelligible) in all ways, my friend.

GOLDMAN: Oops, did I say that?

SIMON: This is another stellar group of four teams; one clear favorite. But, as you say, who knows when you get to this level?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, this is the second time ever that four number one seeds have made it into the Final Four. Baylor, Stanford, Yukon, Notre Dame. They're the best of the best. They've all won titles. This season, their combined won/loss record is 140 and eight. Each team is great defensively. These are tough, physical athletes. They dive for loose balls. They hustle all over the court. It should be close games but Baylor is definitely the favorite.

SIMON: Yeah, and they're playing the Stanford Cardinal. And then, in some ways, this should be the final?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it - you know, some say it should. With all due respect to Yukon and Notre Dame, the Lady Bears are a perfect 38-and-0 right now trying to become the first team - men's or women's - to win 40 in a season. They've got, of course, Brittany Griner, the 6'8" post player. They've also got a great point guard in Odyssey Sims.

But, as you say, they might have a tough matchup this Sunday. Stanford maybe the team best equipped to beat them, with the Ogwumike sisters in the post; also a very good freshman point guard Amber Orrange.

SIMON: Notre Dame vs. UConn?

GOLDMAN: Another interesting matchup. Notre Dame is a very good team, very deep, led by super point guard Skyler Diggins. Keep an eye on Diggins' headband. She starts games wearing her white wide headband; keeps it on if she's playing well, takes it off if she's not. And if she's not, Geno Auriemma's Huskies could be playing a big part in that 'cause they've got a great defense.

SIMON: I'm going to say Baylor in the women's tourney, Kansas for the guys.

GOLDMAN: I like that. Since my men's that bracket is in tatters, I'll mess up everyone else's. I'm going to take Louisville and Baylor on the women's side.

SIMON: Ooh, all right. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.