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A catch-up on women's NCAA basketball ahead of the final

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The women's side of the NCAA college basketball tournament has been electric This year. Millions of fans are tuning in. And ticket sales for the Final Four have been hot. Last night, Angel Reese and LSU knocked off No. 1 seed, Virginia Tech 79-72. And then in an instant classic, Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes stunned national champion South Carolina and its star player, Aliyah Boston, 77-73. Joining us now to recap all the action is Lyndsey D'Arcangelo, who writes for The Athletic and Just Women's Sports and is also the co-author of "Hail Mary: The Rise And Fall Of The National Women's Football League." Welcome to the show.

LYNDSEY D'ARCANGELO: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: So we need to start with that Iowa-South Carolina game last night. South Carolina had won 42 straight games. They won it all last year. They seemed unbeatable. That's not what happened.

D'ARCANGELO: No, it's not what happened. And Iowa just had an incredible game plan. They were able to go up against South Carolina's height and length by just crowding the paint and then forcing South Carolina to beat them from the outside or with mid-range jumpers. And it worked to perfection.

DETROW: I mean, Caitlin Clark has been the star of the tournament, the Iowa player who once again for the second game in a row scored 41 points last night. That's right after her 41 point triple-double in the Elite Eight. She's making three-pointers from the half-court logo. Can you put into perspective this run and just how great of a player she's become?

D'ARCANGELO: Caitlin Clark is, I mean, you just summed it up right there. But what I love about her game this season especially is just how efficient she's gotten. She's a high-volume shooter, but her shooting percentage this season and efficiency have just been off the charts. But it's also how she sees the floor, how she gets her teammates involved and how she just uplifts the play of of everyone around her. I believe she scored or assisted on every single point in the fourth quarter of the game against South Carolina. And I think for the tournament, she's assisted or scored on 58%, I think the number is, on all of Iowa's points. It's just incredible what kind of an impact she has on the game.

DETROW: It feels to me like it wasn't that long ago that the big story from the women's tournament was how, you know, paltry their weight rooms and other facilities were compared to the men's. And then that you have this weekend, tickets for the women's Final Four are selling at far higher prices than the men's game. Millions of people are tuning in to watch these games on ESPN. What does this moment say to you about the growing popularity of the women's game?

D'ARCANGELO: I'm a huge women's sports advocate, not just in basketball, but across the board. But it just goes to show you the time we're living in right now, and then the popularity of women's sports is continuing to grow. There's never been a better time to invest in women's sports, and we're seeing that play out. And the other aspect is that, you know, putting the games - accessibility is huge, too, putting the games where people can see them. Obviously, ESPN, I think this is the third year in the row that they've put the games - every game in the tournament on television. And you've seen the numbers just jump year over year, and it's only going to increase from here.

DETROW: This - I mean, for a casual fan like me these past few weeks, it felt like kind of an an explosion and a coming-out party. Has this been a long trend from your point of view of kind of this excitement growing and more and more people tuning in and momentum here?

D'ARCANGELO: It's definitely been a growing trend, I want to say, within the past five years especially. But, you know, I've seen it just get - the excitement, the coverage, the amount of people talking about women's college basketball just has grown year over year, and it just continues to explode. And the talent is there. You know, the parity in the game is getting better. You're not just having one school dominate. And the level of play is good and fun to watch. And it just it speaks for itself. You know, you have all these people tuning in now.

DETROW: And you've been writing previews all tournament for The Athletic. How are you feeling about tomorrow's game, Iowa-LSU, with a championship on the line?

D'ARCANGELO: Yeah. It's going to be an interesting matchup. Both of these teams do some things really well and do them differently. For LSU, it's rebounding and getting in the paint. For Iowa, it's their outside shooting and their passing and their ability to get in transition. So it's going to be - it's interesting to see how these two teams match up on the court. But had to go with Iowa. You know, they have just more offense in Caitlin Clark.

DETROW: It's hard to beat that at this point in time, it seems like.

D'ARCANGELO: Hard to beat that.

DETROW: Lyndsey D'Arcangelo, sportswriter, thank you so much for joining us.

D'ARCANGELO: Thanks for having me. Love talking basketball. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.