RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
March Madness has delivered as advertised. Last night, Wichita State became the first number nine seed to make the Final Four of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament. We'll talk more about that with Mike Pesca coming up. But first, a look at the women's bracket. Baylor is taking on Louisville in the Sweet 16. Baylor is the defending national champion and is considered the team to beat in the tournament. Brian Hardzinski of member station KGOU previews this evening's matchup in Oklahoma City.
(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALLS BOUNCING)
BRIAN HARDZINSKI, BYLINE: Baylor has been one of the most successful women's programs in the nation since Kim Mulkey's first national championship in 2005. The Lady Bears have lost only one game in the past two seasons, and Brooklyn Pope, the lone graduate student on the roster, says they're mentally tougher in 2013.
BROOKLYN POPE: Everyone knows the goal ahead, and everyone's on the same page to let our egos go to the side. So, the personality of this team is mainly pride and focus.
HARDZINSKI: The other reason for Baylor's success is Brittney Griner.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Griner wraps around for dunk number three and the show goes on.
HARDZINSKI: Only half a dozen women ever dunked in a college game before Griner started her decorated career in 2009, and the Houston native's 18 career dunks and counting are more than all six of those players combined. Figuring out how to contain an imposing 6-foot-8-inch senior who dunks is Louisville head coach Jeff Walz's challenge.
JEFF WALZ: We're going to try and keep her away from the basket if possible, because that's what she does so well. If she misses, she normally gets her own miss back.
HARDZINSKI: The Cardinals opened their 90-minute practice on the floor of the Chesapeake Energy Arena yesterday with shooting drills.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Beyond the three. Let's go. We're taking threes.
HARDZINSKI: Walz and Louisville freshman forward Sara Hammond say perimeter shooting is one way to keep the game close.
SARA HAMMOND: We have Antonita Slaughter who's just shot the ball, you know, like crazy. And she's a person we feel really confident in shooting the ball, and also her length and her defense and rebounding ability.
HARDZINSKI: Walz has succeeded this season by disguising his defensive schemes. They might be in a zone one minute, then with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, they'll switch to man coverage.
KIM MULKEY: That's why they're very good.
HARDZINSKI: Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey.
MULKEY: If you look at stats, they create a lot of steals, and I attribute that to what Jeff has them doing defensively.
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HARDZINSKI: During Baylor's practice Saturday afternoon, Mulkey emphasized that point during drills up and down the hardwood.
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HARDZINSKI: The other star of Baylor's starting five, junior point guard Odyssey Sims, says they spent Saturday night trying to figure out Louisville's defensive adjustments.
ODYSSEY SIMS: This is a new team. We don't know too much about them. Coach does a great job of that. I understand that we're going up against a great team.
HARDZINSKI: Brittney Griner is set to graduate in May, and likely heads to a professional career in the WNBA. She says her final NCAA tournament run feels a little different.
BRITTNEY GRINER: A little bit more emotional, I guess you could say, after every game, just knowing, you know, it's your last time at that spot, or, you know, your last time on the home court. This time it's my last one.
HARDZINSKI: The winner of the Louisville-Baylor matchup takes on the victor of tonight's other contest in the Oklahoma City regional, Tennessee against Oklahoma. For NPR News, I'm Brian Hardzinski in Oklahoma City.
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