College Basketball Championship Games Expected To Be Close

Apr 6, 2015
Originally published on April 6, 2015 9:43 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There are two more games left in the Division I college basketball season. One we expect to be close and exciting, the other we hope will be. Tonight, Wisconsin plays Duke for the men's championship. That's the one that should be a doozy. Tomorrow, the women's title, that's the one where we hope Notre Dame can challenge mighty Connecticut. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to talk about both games. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And if you'll allow me, we will begin with the women. The championship game was set at yesterday's Final Four when UConn dominated Maryland, and Notre Dame won a thriller against South Carolina. Quickly review those games.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, what a thriller. Notre Dame and South Carolina went back and forth all night. The winning basket Notre Dame scored with just 18 seconds left, and so the Irish won 66-65. UConn beat Maryland 81-58, kind of ho-hum. Forward Morgan Tuck, who usually doesn't dominate statistically, did in this one with 24 points and nine rebounds. So now it's on to the title game. These same two teams were in it last year, Notre Dame obviously hoping for a different outcome; UConn won by 21.

MONTAGNE: And not much left to say about UConn's dominance. The Huskies will be trying to win a third straight championship. So let's try this - Tom, why are they so good?

GOLDMAN: They get the best players, who play for a great coach, Geno Auriemma, who according to those in the know pushes those best players mercilessly in practice. I recently spoke with writer Jeff Goldberg, who covered the team for several years in the early 2000s, and he described Auriemma's practices, which sometimes included the five starting players scrimmaging against eight defenders. So it seems 5-on-5 would be a breeze after that, and for UConn, it often is.

MONTAGNE: So UConn and Notre Dame tomorrow night. Tonight, Wisconsin and Duke - a bit of a surprise that the men's uber-team Kentucky is not there. But of course Wisconsin took care of the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend. So what can you tell us about tonight's matchup in Indianapolis?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, close, close. Vegas odds makers rate it even. Against Kentucky, Wisconsin showed the kind of qualities that win close games. They played suffocating defense at big moments and calmly hit the big shots and free throws down the stretch. Duke, on the other hand, has a trio of very good freshmen, including center Jahlil Okafor, who should have a battle royal with Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminski tonight. Duke also has been playing great defense, holding its tournament opponents to an average of 55 points per game. So it should be a great one. I would give a slight edge to Wisconsin.

MONTAGNE: But here's something else, Tom. With previously unbeaten Kentucky gone, has that taken some of the luster off this championship game?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, a little bit, I would say. You know, it would've created the greatest buzz having a 39-and-0 Kentucky team playing for the perfect record. It would've been the first undefeated season since 1976, and playing against hated rival Duke. Basketball fans will remember the two played one of the classic tournament games in 1992. So, you know, that would've stoked the hype machine for this title game. Ticket prices for the final reportedly fell 15 percent after Wisconsin beat Kentucky. You know, I was walking around Indianapolis yesterday. I still saw a number of Kentucky fans, but some definitely left early. It was a sad scene at a souvenir stand offering Kentucky gear for 50 percent off. Still, if Wisconsin and Duke put on the kind of show that's expected, it'll make this game a great ticket.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Indianapolis, site of tonight's men's Division 1 college basketball championship game. Tom, thanks.

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