Gonzaga, North Carolina To Meet Monday In Men's NCAA Basketball Final
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
College basketball wraps up its season tonight with one final game. North Carolina and Gonzaga will play for the men's Division I championship. The game will be taking place outside Phoenix, Ariz. And NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is there ready to cover it. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning - waiting for that "One Shining Moment," David Greene.
GREENE: (Laughter) Waiting for that "One Shining Moment." We'll hear that song when this all wraps up...
GREENE: ...As they always play it. You know, I want to get to the men's game. But we should talk about the women's championship first, the University of South Carolina celebrating this morning. Was this a surprise?
GOLDMAN: You know, it was for those who started paying attention to women's basketball last Friday. That's when Mississippi State scored that epic upset of four-time defending champion UConn. You remember that well.
GOLDMAN: And they became an overnight sensation, especially their pint-sized point guard, Morgan William, who hit the winning shot against UConn. But, David, for those who follow the women's game, South Carolina's 67-55 win last night was not a surprise. The Gamecocks were a number-one seed. They had already beaten Mississippi State twice this season. And under head coach Dawn Staley, they'd been building to this, really. They first reached the Final Four two years ago.
GREENE: But the weirdest thing, Tom - I mean, you mentioned Morgan William, the star of Mississippi State - didn't she spend most of the time on the bench in the fourth quarter last night? What was going on?
GOLDMAN: She did. It was weird. She had a rough night. She told reporters afterwards she wasn't bringing enough energy to her play. And her coach Vic Schaefer echoed that. He said William didn't have energy, and reserve guard Jazzmun Holmes did. And that's why she played in William's place.
But still, it's curious to leave your best player on the bench that long at the most critical time. It was strange and painful to see this happen to this player who was mobbed by teammates Friday night, who became the darling of the Final Four. Now, perhaps William's low energy was partly a UConn hangover.
But do give credit to South Carolina's great defense, especially point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, who absolutely got in William's face early and denied her the ball, just wouldn't let William get the ball and run the offense the way she usually does.
GREENE: Well, let's get to the men's game. I mean, Gonzaga, first time ever in the championship, North Carolina has been there, like, a million times. Does that mean North Carolina really has the advantage tonight?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, they're a slight favorite. North Carolina certainly has the history - five championships, 20 Final Four appearances. But, you know, of course none of that matters when you're dribbling and shooting and...
GREENE: Right (laughter).
GOLDMAN: ...Defending right now, in the moment. What's going to matter to Gonzaga is limiting North Carolina's ability to rebound the ball. The Tar Heels are one of the best at that. Gonzaga also has to get back on defense and prevent North Carolina from running wild.
North Carolina has to deal with two excellent Gonzaga 7-footers and a tremendous guard in Nigel Williams-Goss. They're similar teams. They both have size and speed and talented guards and depth and play great defense. It'll be a fun game.
GREENE: Well, and Tom, North Carolina coming off that devastating last-second loss to Villanova last year - a lot of their fans probably wondering, when are we going to get back there and just put that behind us?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) And they get a chance now to do that, yeah. So there's some extra motivation. You know, for Gonzaga some different motivation, but it's still, you know, strong for them. It's about respect. Gonzaga has been to the tournament every year since 1999 but never this far.
And the thinking always has been that they haven't been able to get this far because they don't play in one of the power conferences. You know, they don't - they don't face the toughest competition. So Gonzaga would love to win this and show that a smaller school from far eastern Washington state can indeed compete with and beat the very best.
GREENE: OK, NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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