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Teams advance to Final Four in the NCAA basketball championship

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

After a college basketball weekend full of March Madness, the men's Final Four is set. And tonight, there are two powerhouse games to complete the women's Final Four. The nightcap is UConn versus USC, but the real headliner is really the first game of the night, featuring the sport's two biggest stars, Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese. Here's how Caitlin Clark sees the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAITLIN CLARK: I think it's just super awesome. I think, you know, if I was just a basketball fan in general, I would be glued to the TV like no other. And I think women's basketball fans know how special and cool this moment will be. I think the viewership numbers will show that.

MARTÍNEZ: Jesse Washington of ESPN's Andscape joins us now. Jesse, I grew up in the '80s watching Magic Johnson's Lakers battle Larry Bird's Celtics. I mean, that was a rivalry with star power. Isn't that what we're getting with Clark and Reese?

JESSE WASHINGTON: It's exactly what we're getting, and it's incredibly exciting. And I'm going to disagree with Caitlin. One thing that she said - she said women's basketball fans are excited. Basketball fans are...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...Excited.

MARTÍNEZ: Everyone (laughter).

WASHINGTON: These are the two biggest stars...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...In college basketball right now. And more people know Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese than they do any of the people on the men's side. So it's going to be an incredible game, and the rematch is going to be something to watch.

MARTÍNEZ: See, I - normally, I'd be asleep at that time, Jesse. I'm actually considering waking up really early, for me, to watch that game. I mean, a MORNING EDITION host has weird sleep schedules, you know?

WASHINGTON: You got to watch it. I mean, it's going to be one of those things. I still remember Magic versus Bird, watching that game, back in the days when we had three channels. And what's more, it kicked off a rivalry that...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...Lasted for decades in the NBA, and it brought more fans to the sport. So hopefully the same thing will happen, and when Angel and Caitlin are playing in the W, the fans will follow.

MARTÍNEZ: There you go. There you go. OK, the other game, UConn, arguably the biggest brand in women's college basketball history, against USC - that was the school that, back in the day, used to be the biggest brand in the sport. So that's another great game that we're going to get tonight.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. You know, UConn's brand has been tarnished recently. They haven't been winning. They used to just win chip after chip and game after game, winning a hundred games in a row - but no longer. And also, Paige Bueckers is an incredible player. But she's had a tough time for UConn, been beset with injuries and things like that. And the brightest young star in the game - after the two we mentioned earlier - is JuJu Watkins from USC, so that's going to be another great matchup. You know there's just so many names, so many stars, so many buckets on the women's side. It's sort of - I can't remember when the men's Final Four was a bit of an afterthought, but that's what it is this year.

MARTÍNEZ: It is, right? I mean, UConn looks like a mini NBA team. I'm not saying they can win in the NBA, but they look like a little mini NBA team. I mean, who are they going to lose to, really?

WASHINGTON: Nobody.

(LAUGHTER)

WASHINGTON: That's the thing. And they won last year. But here's the thing. It's hard to name guys on that team, and they're great...

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

WASHINGTON: ...And everything. You know, on the men's side, the game has been changed by the addition of older players. So it's no longer about that young Zion Williamson or that young Kyrie Irving. Now it's about let's get a bunch of fourth- and fifth-year guys here and win games. And it's exciting. I'm happy for them. They get a great chance to play, but at the same time, it's not the same as it once was.

MARTÍNEZ: That's why they play the game though, right, Jesse? I mean, UConn seems like they're going to beat everyone, but that's why they got to play.

WASHINGTON: I would love to see NC State go up against UConn. We have a real Cinderella, and actually...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...Two of the names that most people know is the DJs from NC...

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

WASHINGTON: ...State - DJ Burns and DJ Horne. So DJ Burns is a big guy, a very, very big guy, doesn't really jump very...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...High, but his skill is amazing. And DJ Horne is a guard who's super exciting - both of them older players.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, can't wait to watch.

WASHINGTON: They're an 11 seed.

MARTÍNEZ: Jesse, I'm sorry, got to...

WASHINGTON: They're in the Final Four...

MARTÍNEZ: ...Leave it there. Jesse Washington of ESPN's Andscape. Jesse, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jesse Washington
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.