Gators Make First Basketball Championship Look Easy
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The Florida Gators are the men's NCAA Basketball Champions. They won their first National Basketball Title by beating UCLA 73 to 57.
Joakim Noah led the Gators with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots.
We're going to talk about this with Christine Brennan, a columnist for USA Today, a regular guest on this program, who was at the game at Indianapolis.
Good morning Christine.
Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (columnist, USA Today): Good morning Steve.
INSKEEP: Well UCLA had some big defense for the season, but not last night.
Ms. BRENNAN: No, they didn't. In fact, the tables were turned, it was all Florida. And it, actually it was all Noah.
Of course, Joakim Noah, who is the son of the tennis star Yannick Noah, and they have similar hair stylists, I believe, who help them with their interesting long hair.
Sixteen points, six blocked shots, Steve. He was equally adept, as a 6'11” sophomore, whether he was passing, shooting, dribbling the ball up the floor himself, if there was pressure. He dominated all over the floor. The point that John Thompson, the former Georgetown coach now turned announcer and broadcaster came by at half-time in Press Row, shaking his head, “If I'd known he was this good I never would have retired.”
John Thompson had him in summer camp as a kid, when Noah was a kid at Georgetown. And he was in shock over what a performance this kid put on. And really single handedly, especially in the first half, taking it to UCLA.
INSKEEP: Were there any lessons from his father, Yannick Noah, that translated across sports?
Ms. BRENNAN: I think having fun with sports. I mean this is a kid who's very sharp, very smart. Billy Donovan, the Florida coach, talks about how the one-on-one instruction he gives to Joakim Noah every time, he's the kid's thanking him four or five times as they're leaving the practice court. He said I don't expect to be thanked once, says Billy Donovan, and he's got a sophomore who's thanking him four or five times.
I think the appreciation for sport, the love of it, have fun with it; you could see that with this kid last night.
INSKEEP: Now Christine, let's go over to the women's side.
The women's NCAA final will be played tonight in Boston. Maryland playing Duke; two very different teams.
Ms. BRENNAN: Yes, they are, and that they know each other very well both from the ACC. They've placed three times already. This will be the fourth, of course.
Maryland is a big surprise, Steve, this year, without a senior in its starting lineup. Duke has been highly ranked all year, favored to win its first national title and follow the men with one finally.
But Maryland hasn't been to a Final Four since the late 1980's. Duke has been in the Final Four three of the past five seasons. And, it's really kind of a David and Goliath, with of course, Duke being Goliath. But they have to be concerned because Maryland beat them in the ACC Tournament Semi-Finals just a few weeks ago. It's coming on like gangbusters right now.
INSKEEP: And I suppose Maryland is the George Mason, for those who miss George Mason now?
Ms. BRENNAN: That's right. And, you know, it's interesting because, with women's basketball, very different from the men's, where you don't see, traditionally you've seen the powers; Connecticut, Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, of course, everyone knows those schools. This year it's different.
Here you've got Duke-Maryland, last year Baylor-Michigan State. What this means to me is that we're seeing the personification of Title Nine, the 1972 gender equity law. All of a sudden there's balance in women's sports, because so many girls and women are getting good training and coaching.
And, all of a sudden you see a different team, in this case Maryland, bubble to the surface after years of being down because they get a few good recruits; because there are so many more now, women playing great basketball around the country.
INSKEEP: Christine Brennan, of USA today, thanks very much.
Ms. BRENNAN: Thank you Steve.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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