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Breaking down the NCAA women's championship game and tournament

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's been a banner year for women's college basketball, and while all eyes were on Caitlin Clarke in yesterday's NCAA final, they saw her team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, lose. But taking out the South Carolina Gamecocks was never going to be easy. After all, they were undefeated all season. Here to talk about the championship game and the tournament is Kavitha Davidson She's a sports journalist. Welcome.

KAVITHA DAVIDSON: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So first, I mean, it's been this amazing season. Do you feel like the championship game lived up to that?

DAVIDSON: I think it absolutely did. And, you know, those of us who have been watching both of these teams all season saw exactly what we expected. You know, Caitlin Clark sets another record - I don't know how many are left, frankly...

CHANG: (Laughter).

DAVIDSON: ...Scoring 18 points in that first quarter. And South Carolina just showed how dominant they are and why they're undefeated and really took over that second half.

CHANG: And this is the third national title for the Gamecocks under coach Dawn Staley, right? Like, what can you tell us about her coaching style and all the success that she's had with this team?

DAVIDSON: It is. So it's the third title that she's got under her belt. It's the second that they've won in the last three years. In the last three years, the Gamecocks have lost a total of three games. You know, when you use the word dominant, it's - you know, it's really hard to...

CHANG: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: ...Overstate how dominant this team has been. You know, and it's remarkable what they were able to do. They lost all of their starters from last year and still did not lose a beat, and that is a credit to Dawn Staley, the way that she recruits, the respect she has of her team. Obviously, she's got one of the greatest basketball minds that we've ever seen. But she said something interesting yesterday about her recruiting, which was the second-most important thing she looks for when bringing players into South Carolina - is how their relationship is with their parents because what she said was...

CHANG: Aw.

DAVIDSON: ...If I have players who respect their parents, they're going to respect our team.

CHANG: Well, I do want to talk about Caitlin Clark, even though her team didn't clinch the championship. It was Caitlin Clark's last collegiate game last night. She's moving on to the WNBA. And I saw that after the game, Coach Staley congratulated Iowa on, you know, a great season, and then she personally thanked Caitlin Clark for lifting up the sport, which was really cool to see. How would you describe Clark's impact on women's basketball at this point?

DAVIDSON: Yeah. I mean, again, like, she's broken all of the records. She is the most prolific scorer, men's or women's, that the college game has ever seen. And it really will speak to her legacy, how much she has done for the women's game, for women's hoops and for college hoops. Now, I do want to say that, you know, as generational a talent as she is, women's basketball has had - for decades - the talent and the superstars, but we haven't had the access to them. They haven't been put on television. They haven't been featured on "SportsCenter." So she came around at exactly the right time when the people in charge of these kinds of decisions have finally come to the table with, you know, the investment that is now being put into the programming decisions, the marketing of these games. And, you know, those of us who have advocated for women's sports for years have said very simply, if you put women's sports on television, people will watch. And that's what we're seeing now.

CHANG: Yeah. That was Kavitha Davidson, sports journalist and co-author of the book "Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back: Dilemmas Of The Modern Fan." Thank you so much, Kavitha.

DAVIDSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.