RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The national championship game in men's college basketball is set. The two winningest programs in the sport, Kansas and Kentucky, will face off Monday night. The Jayhawks beat Ohio State in a close one last night, and Kentucky got past Louisville. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the games and has more.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: At the nine minutes to go mark in games one through four of Kentucky's romp through the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have had leads of 13, 11, 18 and 30 points. So, it was significant that the Louisville Cardinals actually found themselves tied with Kentucky at that nine-minute juncture. But John Calipari's Wildcats once more pulled ahead and this time the Cardinals desperate press was shredded by the Cats. Kentucky's last three field goals were dunks, each more emphatic than the last. After the game, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino was gracious.
RICK PITINO: To tell you the truth, I haven't always liked some of the Kentucky teams. I'm not going to lie to you. I haven't always liked. But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play. And Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky, which doesn't happen very often, to bring home that trophy to the state.
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PESCA: Not your state, our state. Ohio State, screamed thousands of Buckeye fans in the second game of the doubleheader. The Buckeyes took a nine-point lead into halftime, but Kansas adopted a different attitude upon exiting their locker room, as summarized by their coach Bill Self.
BILL SELF: Yeah, but the second half it seems like to me that, OK, guys, enough of the nonsense; lets go play and at least give ourselves a chance. And, God, we played good the second half.
PESCA: A 13-to-4 run in the first six minutes tied the score. But Ohio State raged back and retook the lead. But Kansas made a layup and all four of its free throws down the stretch, and then with four seconds left Self decided to foul Ohio State's Aaron Craft with the Jayhawks up three. This meant that Craft would have to make a foul shot then miss intentionally, grab the rebound and score, which he and his teammates could not do. The game was over. The coaching move to foul rather than allow a tying three-pointer is not Self's usual style.
SELF: Well, you know, we don't ever do that. I mean, if you foul, we never do that. But I told our guys: foul him.
PESCA: That decision reveals a lot about Self. First of all, fouling in that situation usually is the right move. The best study on the subject was co-authored by a former coach and a math professor at DePauw University. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Co-author Bill Fenlon is still head basketball coach at DePauw.] Coaches often defend their decision not to foul by saying I don't believe in that or we never foul, as if consistency equals the optimal play. It does not. So, Self showed flexibility. And the Jayhawks famously won a championship after a rival coach's decision not to foul up three late. The opposing coach was John Calipari, who took note. Tomorrow night, he gets his chance to show what lessons he's learned. Mike Pesca, NPR News.
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MARTIN: This is NPR News.
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