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Which teams will be left standing, when the women's Final Four is over?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's the last day of March, but the March Madness continues. It's the women's college basketball tournament continuing. A hugely successful and exciting NCAA Division I tournament is down to the Final Four in Dallas, Texas. Now, up first, Virginia Tech, first-time semifinalist, plays LSU. And then after that, Iowa plays defending champ, an undefeated South Carolina. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, Iowa-South Carolina is the heavyweight matchup, and it's driven by a couple of star players. What do we need to know about this game?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's a great matchup. The nation's top offense, Iowa, against the best defense, South Carolina. And yes, each team boasts a player of the year. South Carolina's great power forward Aliyah Boston won last year's award. And yesterday, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark won this year's. She has been amazing with her long-range shooting. She makes shots from the logo on the court. But she's got a great all-around game. She showed that off with the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history - double figures in points, assists, rebounds. As good as she and Aliyah Boston are individually, Clark said yesterday the game's obviously going to be about two great teams.

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CAITLIN CLARK: They're going to be all up on us, playing really good defense. You know, that's kind of what they hang their hat on, and they're really good at it. So we're going to need to use one another, and everybody's going to have to contribute.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Tom, even though it seems like this game is getting a lot of buzz, a lot of hype, the women's tournament traditionally lags behind the men's tournament when it comes to media attention. Is that changing so far?

GOLDMAN: It seems to be, especially this year. And maybe because while the men's Final Four has a bunch of teams no one really expected, the women have four top teams led by this Goliath, South Carolina. The Gamecocks are trying to become the 10th team to finish the season without losing. They're also trying to become the first repeat champions since UConn nearly a decade ago.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and then there's that star power that you mentioned with all those names.

GOLDMAN: Well, that's for sure. You know, Caitlin Clark, Aliyah Boston. There's LSU's Angel Reese, Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley and point guard Georgia Amoore from Australia. She grew up playing Australian rules football. And yesterday she talked about the toughness she developed playing against the boys. She was really speedy, and the only way they could stop her was pulling her down by her ponytail - so great players and fun personalities. Ticket prices are higher for the women's Final Four than the men's. But Clark did point out that might be because there are fewer seats. The women are playing in an NBA arena in Dallas; the men are playing in a gargantuan NFL stadium in Houston. Still, the whole tournament has been an important step forward for the women's game. This was LSU senior guard Alexis Morris yesterday.

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ALEXIS MORRIS: I think the most exciting part about it is being a part of history. And we're literally watching the game grow and change right in front of our faces, and we're playing a huge part in it. And it's just - like, it's an honor.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Tom, we've mentioned this very unlikely Final Four for the men. What can you tell us about this group of teams playing tomorrow?

GOLDMAN: Well, unlikely indeed. Who would have thought - San Diego State, Florida Atlantic University, Miami, all in their first-ever Final Four. The one outlier in this group, UConn, has won four titles, most recently in 2014, the highest seed left, so probably the team to beat. But nothing has been predictable in this men's tournament. Since the NCAA started seeding every tournament team in 1979, this is the first time no teams in the semifinals are seeded higher than No. 4. All the 1's, 2's and 3's are gone. So it's uncharted territory, but exciting. San Diego State, Florida Atlantic, Miami all have a chance to win their first title.

MARTÍNEZ: My bracket busted after the first few hours of the tournament.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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