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LSU is the women's NCAA basketball champion, men's winner decided tonight


Louisiana State University won the women's college basketball championship yesterday, cutting down the net on a season for the ages. LSU's win came over Iowa and Caitlin Clark, the Hawkeye guard who had a record-setting tournament performance and was the highest scorer in Sunday's final. Here to talk about last night's women's final is Kevin Blackistone, a Washington Post columnist who appears regularly on ESPN. Kevin, how did the LSU-Iowa game compare to previous championship games?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, it was exciting, to say the least. And it - you know, it obviously featured the player of the year in Caitlin Clark against one of the greatest women's coaches of all time at LSU in Kim Mulkey. And it was a punishing game on the eyes for one reason because the officiating was so abhorrent, but also because it was a physical game in some respects. And - but it was much anticipated because of Caitlin Clark, as well as because of Angel Reese, who transferred from the University of Maryland, where she was their highest recruit ever and goes right to LSU to play for Kim Mulkey, who went there after two years at Baylor, where she had won a couple of championships, and she fit right in. And she was a double-double queen this year, meaning she was putting up double-digit points and double-digit rebounds back to back to back to back all season long, and was a star in this game as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, there were some odd calls and no calls, but, you know...


MARTÍNEZ: ...That's the refs and sometimes that happens. And I wanted to get into, though, Caitlin Clark using the you-can't-see-me John Cena wave earlier in the tournament. She used it without any criticism - at least, I don't remember seeing anybody criticize her. But then Angel Reese of LSU does it, and it seems like it just blows up. What did you make of all that?

BLACKISTONE: Well, you know, we in the public, because so much of this was social media, we've been conditioned into judging similar, if not the same behavior by white athletes and Black athletes differently. And this was another anecdote to go along with that qualitative evidence. And I've been talking about it and writing about it for years. You can go all the way back to the way that Jack Johnson, as the first Black heavyweight champion in the world, was talked about.

If you see Ken Burns' "Unforgiveable Blackness," it is pointed out that his defensive style of boxing, which was similar to the style of boxing of some very good white fighters, was dismissed as him being a coward. Whereas in other - in the white fighters, it was praised as being - as them being able to use their guile. And so you see that with these two athletes. They did the exact same thing on the exact same stage. And in fact, a national newspaper in this country praised Caitlin Clark when she did that earlier, which was kind of stunning to me. But when Angel Reese did it via social media, she was panned, and not just panned but with vile. And it was really ugly to see.

MARTÍNEZ: Now the women's Final Four got 4.5 million viewers in average. I mean, that's a big increase - 66% - from last year. I mean, what do you think's behind all that?

BLACKISTONE: I think maybe a few things. One is that the talent is just so good now with the women. The competition is so good. There's no - there's never any one team anymore that you can just pick out and say that they're that great. And I also think that the - in the last few years, when we've had the focus on the inequalities between men and women's game that people finally tuned in to the women's game to see for themselves and to cheer these women on. And I think that's part of the attraction.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Kevin Blackistone. Kevin, thanks a lot.


MARTÍNEZ: And tonight's final pits UConn, the most dominant team in the tournament, against San Diego State, which has had a charmed run through the field. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.