Sports
4:19 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Kentucky Wildcats To Play UConn Huskies In NCAA Final

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 7:17 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, it's championship week in Division 1 college basketball. Kentucky plays Connecticut tonight for the men's title. And tomorrow, two undefeated teams play for the women's championship. They are Connecticut and Notre Dame.

NPR's Tom Goldman is in Dallas, he's on the line. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hiya, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so Kentucky got to the championship game by winning by a single point over Wisconsin, which is how they've won a lot of games. Can we expect another close one tonight?

GOLDMAN: You certainly can. You know, the Wildcats are favored. Steve. But the word favored in this tourney has meant absolutely nothing and has made it one of the best tournaments ever. We said at the beginning it would be wide open. It has been. Now you've got a seven seed, Connecticut, playing an eight seed, Kentucky. All the top seeds are gone. It should be a doozy(ph).

INSKEEP: A doozy. OK, that's one of those newfangled sports terms, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: What's the case for...

GOLDMAN: That's what they say in Texas, Steve.

INSKEEP: Oh, they say that a Texas. OK, a doozy. What's the case for each team in this doozy?

GOLDMAN: OK, Kentucky has a lot going for it. The Wildcats are big. They're a great rebounding team. They have shown tremendous poise in late game situations in the tournament. Now, even though the starting lineup is all freshmen, as you probably know, then there's the unbelievable string of clutch plays by Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, who has hit three straight game-clinching three point shots - never happened before.

UConn, on the other hand, guard play with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, they both give up about six inches to Kentucky's towering guards. But Napier and Boatright are very quick and pesky on defense. And UConn's phenomenal team defense was fully on display in Saturday's upset win over top-seeded Florida.

INSKEEP: Now, let's talk about the other UConn, the women's team. And they are undefeated playing undefeated Notre Dame. Is the matchup as even as the records would suggest there?

GOLDMAN: You would think so, but UConn is a favorite. They would be favored, you know, going in even if Notre Dame were whole. But the Irish are not whole. They're missing a key player in forward Natalie Achonwa who's out with an injured knee. Notre Dame did not miss her in yesterday's easy win over Maryland in the semifinals. But they're going to miss her tomorrow, because UConn's big players, Stephanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart, will be that much more dominant than they usually are.

Notre Dame's outstanding guards Kayla McBride and Jewel Lloyd will do what they can to keep it close. But UConn, which beat Notre Dame in the Final Four, last year on the way to the title, simply is a juggernaut. They're going to be hard to stop.

INSKEEP: Tom, I want to ask about something else. This is kind of a perennial in college sports. People ask: Why are these guys not paid. Is this really an amateur activity? Are the athletes being taken advantage of? And even though this is just a constant topic of conversation, it's come to the forefront again. And what can you tell us about what the NCAA President Mark Emmert has been saying about this?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, he spoke Sunday. He and a panel of college administrators held a press conference and responded to the very hot subject of college athletes' rights, and the recent push by Northwestern University football players to unionize. As you know, an initial ruling by the National Labor Relations Board has given those players the right to unionize. Not surprisingly, Emmert hates the idea. He says the union employee model has a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems. It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics, he said.

You know, Steve, of course, some say it needs to be blown out. But he also said the NCAA is working on reforms. That would help athletes such as stipends to help fill the gaps and scholarships that don't cover the full cost of going to school. So we will see what happens. In the meantime, scholarship football players at Northwestern are scheduled to vote April 25th whether or not they want to join a union.

INSKEEP: OK, we'll be following that. Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Goldman covering the men's college basketball championship game, which comes tonight, Kentucky against Connecticut. On the women's side, tomorrow Connecticut plays Notre Dame - both teams undefeated.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.