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Wisconsin Upsets Kentucky, Faces Duke In Championship


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


MARTIN: Oh, man, that music can only mean one thing. It's time for sports. And boy, do we have something exciting to talk about. I'm going to quote the WEEKEND EDITION editor Barrie Hardymon right now, who said bam. And that is why the single elimination tournament is awesome because last night, things got really dramatic in the NCAA tournament. The Wisconsin Badgers beat the until-then undefeated Kentucky Wildcats in dramatic fashion. Mike Pesca of The Gist podcast is here now to break it down for us. Hi, Mike.


MARTIN: You stayed up to watch this game I imagine?

PESCA: Yes. I got to stay up. It was a pleasure.

MARTIN: So what happened?

PESCA: Well, Kentucky was perfect until last night. But they weren't perfect. I mean, their coach, John Calipari, would always tell you, we're just undefeated. And they had been taken to over time a couple times. And they had shown vulnerability, but it just seemed with his team of future NBA players, with a team that was taller - fielding a lineup that was taller than every NBA lineup of every team except one time, the Utah Jazz fielded a taller lineup all season - they just seemed like a juggernaut.

And the impressive thing was not just Wisconsin winning, it was that they would not wilt. And there were times in his game, especially with four or five minutes left when the Wildcats had gone on a run, and everyone said we've seen this one before. The Badgers gave us a good show from the get-go. It was an exciting game. It was the kind of game where people turned to each other and said, now this is the college basketball game we've been waiting for. But Wisconsin just shut the Wildcats down on defense a couple trips down the floor, where not only did Kentucky get a bad shot, they got no shot - shot clock violations. And Wisconsin just showed a tremendous amount of grit and fantastic shooting against a defense that's certainly the best in the decade.

MARTIN: I still just don't understand how this happens, though. A team with that kind of record - Kentucky's record - a perfect season all of a sudden - I mean, they just - what? - psychologically crumble?

PESCA: Well, I think that they were - they are a very good team, but they are a very young team. And it wasn't Kentucky's fault. They were doing a lot of the things that show you, my God, Kentucky is good. It's that Wisconsin played fantastic defense. And, you know, the remarkable thing about Wisconsin is that they played such good offense. But down the stretch to do what they did is amazing. Wisconsin going into the finals against Duke - we should mention that game. You think you want to?

MARTIN: All right, fine. OK, yeah. Let's talk about that game.

PESCA: Duke - I don't want to give Duke short shrift. They beat Michigan State team. Michigan State was just overmatched. And Jahil Okafor, 18, Justise Winslow, 19 - and right now, Las Vegas does not know who to make the favorite in the game. And I guess you could look at the - what happened with Wisconsin and say so where will they be psychologically, right? Do they think they've already won the championship? Or are they on a roll and can't be stopped? And I look to history. I would say in the world of basketball, Duke in 1991 beat an undefeated UNLV team, and they rolled onto the national championship. Also, look the miracle on ice, 1980, right. That was not the gold-medal game when the U.S. beat the Soviets. So I just think psychologically, when a team does this and slays a dragon, it doesn't set them back. They begin to think of themselves as unstoppable. And at least psychologically, let's just say the edge is not against Wisconsin. But Duke is another fantastic team in their way.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, the men's NCAA tournament not the only tournament in town. The women's final four is today. Tell us what we need to know about those games.

PESCA: So if Kentucky was seen as unbeatable, I think UConn on the women's side might actually be unbeatable. They play Maryland. In the other game, Notre Dame plays South Carolina. These are the four No. 1 seeds. So if UConn does win, they'll have to earn it.

MARTIN: All right, Mike Pesca, host of The Gist podcast from slate.com. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.