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Saturday Sports: Women's and men's NCAA tournaments; MLB opening weekend

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: March Madness now April Anxiousness - women's championship match set, men's Final Four tonight, and baseball is back. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you.

BRYANT: I mean, of course, I know how good you are. Why did I even say that? It's baseball season. You're great.

SIMON: You know, you're right. It does lift my spirits and pick up my step. Caitlin Clark was stunning last night. Iowa...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Defeated South Carolina 77-73. LSU came from behind to defeat Virginia Tech 79-72. They're going to play for the championship tomorrow. What do you foresee?

BRYANT: Yeah, they're going to play for a championship. And Caitlin Clark is playing for the hearts and minds of everybody. I'll tell you, this is the thing - I mean, we'll talk about the guys in a minute, but this is what being a star is all about - when you are here on the biggest stage and everybody's watching, and especially in a sport where a lot of people don't quite know who you are. I mean, they don't follow college - you know, women's basketball the way that they are going to because March Madness is now being incorporated the way it is with the guys.

And so now the state is even bigger for women's sports. The ratings are up. Everybody's watching. And so when you've got that much of attention, what do you get? You get Caitlin Clark taking down South Carolina, defending champions, undefeated. And she scored half their points. I mean, I was getting texts from people around the NBA last night during this game going, she is cold. And I'm like, yeah, I mean, you know she's the one you've got to stop. And she was all over them. I mean, it was the Steph Curry effect. She's shooting the ball from, you know, five steps after half court and nothing but net and goodness, that's what being a champ's all about. It was amazing to watch.

And I felt a little bad for South Carolina, as well, because being undefeated - the pressure was getting to them, too. You could see that in addition to wanting to win this game, they also had known that they hadn't really lost. Nobody wanted to shoot the ball. So it was pretty incredible.

SIMON: Men's tournament Final Four tonight - remarkable among these four teams, nobody ranked higher than a No. 4 seed. What are you watching for?

BRYANT: Well, exactly. And what I'm watching for is defense from San Diego State. That's what they do. I'm looking for UConn to see - I think UConn might be the best team out of the four so far. I love Florida. You know, FAU - I mean, what a Cinderella story - pretty amazing, as well. I mean, all of the teams are interesting. And that's why I was - you know, and I didn't want to give short shrift to Kim Mulkey over there on the other side because with LSU, I just didn't mention her, to say once again, recognizable star players, recognizable star coaches. This is what the tournament is all about.

And for the first time in a long time, it's the NCAA men's side that doesn't really have the star power that's got the - they've got this sort of anonymity right now. You've got a bunch of teams, and people don't really know who they are, but this is the stage to let everybody know. Let them know all year what you've been doing. I got to say, I'm not making predictions, but I just love the way San Diego State plays defense. They get on you, boy.

SIMON: Yeah. Major League Baseball opening day this week - I just want to note that juggernaut known as the Chicago Cubs remain undefeated.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: But the new rules are kind of the story of the season, aren't they?

BRYANT: Yeah. You know, Scott, I'll tell you really quick, it's fascinating to me watching how everybody is bragging about the new rules and patting themselves on the back. And yeah, it's great because it's faster. It's faster. But are you really making a marketing pitch that you're getting less of your game?

SIMON: (Laughter) Yes. Yeah, right?

BRYANT: I like the fact that it's efficient, but I also am very worried when everybody - when the headline of your sport is, we're going to get less of it. Good games but not faster games. How about good and fast, and we still have a good sport?

SIMON: Yeah. Howard Bryant, thanks so much. Talk to you soon, my friend.

BRYANT: Yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.