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Preview Of Women's Basketball 'Sweet Sixteen'


In women's college basketball the Sweet 16 is set. And to no one's surprise, the four number one seeds have made it. Can any team beat Baylor, Stanford, Yukon or Notre Dame? Or will those four keep rolling until the Final Four?

Joining me is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Welcome back, Tom.


CORNISH: So let's start by talking about Baylor, undefeated. They're the number one seed overall and home of the nation's best player, Britney Griner. I understand that she has, you know, really been impressing people out there.

GOLDMAN: She has. They beat Florida by 19 points and she dunked. It's only the second time...

CORNISH: Yeah, that's a big deal.

GOLDMAN: Only the second time in an NCAA game. Candace Parker threw down a couple in a game a few years ago. Now, Audie, this is sure to elicit snarky comments from the male-dominated sports media...

CORNISH: Are there any other kind? Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Right. Oh, you know, ooh, a girl dunks, let's write stories about it. And you know what? About the dunk, Griner was kind of ho-hum. What really excites her are blocked shots and she is the best at it. She averaged over five per game this season. And this is a favorable comparison we can make with the men's tournament. The dominant player there is Kentucky's Anthony Davis, who is known first and foremost as a supreme shot-blocker. It's a really neat lost art that's getting put into the spotlight, shot blocking.

Teams love having a big shot-blocker in there because they can do so much than just swat a ball. They can alter the way an entire team plays.

CORNISH: So let's talk about the other teams that are in between Baylor and, like, winning the whole thing, right, for the people who have Baylor all the way in their brackets. Like, Texas A&M.

GOLDMAN: Yes, last year's champions and their outspoken head coach Gary Blair had a message for President Obama, who picked Baylor. And Gary Blair said don't give up on us. They lost a couple of key players from last year's championship team, but they've got a well-balanced team this year. They've got tournament experience. So, as Gary Blair said, don't give up on the Aggies' quite yet.

CORNISH: So, Tom, I mean, is anybody really vulnerable in this top group? If you actually had to bet on one of those number one seeds not making it to the Final Four, who would it be?

GOLDMAN: Keep an eye on this weekend's Sweet 16 game between Stanford and South Carolina. South Carolina is the number five seed and they played really great defense in their win over Purdue in the second round. Stanford has shown some vulnerability against a good pressure defense. This one could be interesting.

CORNISH: Finally, you can't talk NCAA tournament without talking about Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee coach. I mean, this is the winningest coach in NCAA history. But this is the first tournament that she's done since she's announced that she's had Alzheimer's.


CORNISH: And I'm wondering how she's doing and how the Lady Vols are doing.

GOLDMAN: Lady Vols are doing - you know, they're still in there. It's been obviously a challenging year. I talked to some people who cover the Lady Vols on a regular basis. Pat Summitt is still coaching. She has delegated a lot of that to her assistant.

You know, she suffers in comparison to her former self. She is known as a fireball. You know, we all remember her pacing the sidelines, screaming at refs, screaming at players, screaming at anything. Anything less than that is going to be obvious and it is, as she is a more subdued version of who she was before.

Tennessee officials have been upset with some of the TV coverage. Cameras have tended to linger on Summitt on the sidelines and show her looking somewhat detached at times.

One reporter I spoke to, Audie, didn't have a sense that this is any more of an emotional run through the tournament, although it seems like it would be. You know, a let's win it for Pat kind of thing. Apparently the Lady Vols are very process-oriented. Right now, they're focused on beating an upstart Kansas team that has beaten two higher seeds. But, you know, they just can't get around the fact of Summitt's condition. And the fact that even she has said he this may be her last year coaching.

CORNISH: Tom, a lot of fascinating stories in this tournament. Thanks so much for talking with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

CORNISH: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, talking about the women's NCAA basketball tournament. Sweet 16 games begin this Saturday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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