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The latest NCAA tournament standings

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

From sweet to elite, it is crunch time in the world of college basketball. The final four teams in both the men's and women's tournaments will be decided today and tomorrow. Young players' dreams will be crushed or realized this week. On the men's side, the big question seems to be if anyone can topple the defending champion, UConn Huskies. And on the women's side, an Elite 8 rematch of last year's championship has everyone waiting to see if superstar Caitlin Clark can take the big prize. Nicole Auerbach is a senior writer for The Athletic, and she's joining us from Albany, where she's covering the women's tournament. Hey, Nicole.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Hey. Thanks for having me.

DETROW: Let's start with women. Let's start with Iowa. There is no bigger star on the planet, it seems right now, than Iowa's Caitlin Clark. I feel like every game I watch, whether it's men or women, she is in three commercials per break, you know? She's bringing attention to women's basketball in a way we have not seen before. Is she matching the hype so far this tournament?

AUERBACH: She absolutely has. She's had moments where the shots weren't falling, but obviously, Iowa has continued to advance. And she has dazzled us not just with her shot-making but also her passing ability. I think anyone who watches her realizes that that's almost the underrated part of her game, and I think that team shoots a lot of threes. That team has great ball movement, but certainly she is the heart and soul of all of it. And they go as she goes, and they have made it all the way to the Elite 8, on the cusp of a Final Four again.

DETROW: And now there's this dramatic rematch against Angel Reese and the defending champion LSU, who, we should say, beat Iowa pretty handily in the championship last year. What are you looking for this time around?

AUERBACH: Well, the first thing I'm looking forward to is to see how it's officiated because if you remember, with that championship game last year, some of the stars were not on the court for as long as we'd like them to, including Clark. She picked up two early fouls that were questionable. And so hopefully, you know, we get to see both these teams at full strength, but the key is going to be the post play of LSU. Obviously, that's where Angel Reese plays, and they have a lot more depth. And Iowa will need to match her and figure out how they are going to attack the paint as well. And I do expect it to be closer this time around. And like I said, hopefully, we will see the stars on the court for the whole time.

DETROW: I have to ask, do you share the frustration that this matchup is happening before we even get to the Final Four?

AUERBACH: You know, both coaches were asked about that, and I think they both feel like it is a Final Four caliber game, and they wish that it were on that stage. But I think they appreciate that for both of these teams, they have to go through each other to get to a championship, regardless of when that happens. And I think to me, it speaks to the parity of the game, the fact that we have seen some phenomenal matchups earlier than the Final Four. That's something that didn't used to happen on the women's side.

This is a potential really special day in the history of women's basketball. I can't think of a day that is more anticipated because it's not just Angel and Caitlin, but you also have JuJu Watkins and Paige Bueckers on the other part of the bracket for a trip for the Final Four with UConn and USC. So to me, it feels like it is going to be one of those breakthrough moments for a sport that's had a lot of them lately.

DETROW: Yeah. Let's talk about the men. UConn is through to the Final Four. They're chasing the first back-to-back title run in more than 15 years. At this point, do you feel like anybody can stop them?

AUERBACH: I would love to give you a more interesting answer and say yes, but honestly, no. I saw them up close...

DETROW: We deal with the facts sometimes.

AUERBACH: That is the facts. You know, I saw them up close and personal, and they are just so imposing physically. It just is so hard to think about how you would even attack them when they're on defense. So I just don't think anyone can beat them.

DETROW: That is Nicole Auerbach, senior writer for The Athletic. Thank you so much.

AUERBACH: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUA LIPA SONG, "TRAINING SEASON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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