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Saturday Sports: The March Madness Games We're Watching

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And we have to make a transition now. It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And to the strains of BJ Leiderman's theme music, more match met - (babbling) - March Madness today. Paige Bueckers of the Huskies, Caitlin Clark of the Hawkeyes will be on court. Also, the NCAA president says he'll review issues of inequality. And the Olympic Torch Relay kicked off this week in Japan, but concern with every step.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. (Babbling). Thanks for being with us, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) Easy for you to say. Hi, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah. I beg your pardon.

UConn, No. 1, takes on No. 5 Iowa today. Bet you think only two players are playing, two great freshman guards - Paige Bueckers with UConn, Caitlin Clark for Iowa. What do we expect from this game and the future?

GOLDMAN: Well, we expect a UConn win today because the Huskies have a deeper team and better defense. And I know we're not supposed to make this into a one-on-one matchup, but we cannot resist. It's fun to imagine these two freshmen going at it and playing the fantastic basketball they've been playing all season. Bueckers - a finalist for national player of the year. Clark is the nation's leading scorer. Both outstanding passers, too. It would be great for the women's game if these two can establish a rivalry through their college careers and then into the WNBA.

SIMON: Yeah. On the men's side, Sister Jean's Loyola of Chicago and Oral Roberts are still in the Sweet 16. They play later today. I understand some less blessed teams are (laughter) playing, too. What are you watching for?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Advise us.

GOLDMAN: Well, I think one of the blessed teams, Oral Roberts, the lowest seed still alive at No. 15, loses to Arkansas. But I also think Sister Jean, longtime chaplain, 101 years old, and her Loyola Chicago Ramblers advance to the Elite Eight with a win over an Oregon State team that's gelling at the perfect time of year. Sister Jean predicted her team would beat No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And we all said, well, that's sweet, but not...

SIMON: Aw.

GOLDMAN: ...Going to happen.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: The Ramblers dominated Illinois. And she says Loyola Chicago now gets to the Elite Eight. I'm not doubting her again.

SIMON: Yeah, don't doubt Sister Jean.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Some women athletes used their cellphone last week to show the world evidence of unequal training facilities. They got a response, but any action?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did. The NCAA was shamed into upgrading the women's weight training facilities at their tournament site. The NCAA also hired a law firm to review gender equity issues in general. And the NCAA president, Mark Emmert, admitted his organization blew it with the women's tournament, said they were so fixated on health and safety issues with the pandemic that they didn't communicate about what amenities the women should get. But there's still skepticism and anger toward Emmert in the NCAA, Scott, from the women and the men who continue to generate buckets of money with their tournament but not get compensated in any meaningful way.

SIMON: Japan really, really wants these Olympics to work. And the Torch Relay is now underway. Not everybody in Japan thinks it's a good idea to welcome the world, do they?

GOLDMAN: No, they don't. You've got - polls repeatedly have shown up to 80% of the Japanese public want the games canceled. You know, Japan reportedly has already spent more than 15 billion on these games, doesn't want to lose more money. And the government desperately wants the glory of having the first post-pandemic games and doesn't want China to steal that honor when it hosts the next Winter Olympics in less than a year. The Japanese people say we won't be post-pandemic in July. They're nervous. But as the torch works its way toward Tokyo, it appears inevitable that what the Japanese people want doesn't really matter.

SIMON: Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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