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Saturday sports: Elite Eight begins; Colorado and Iowa face off in women's Sweet 16


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Men's Elite Eight starts tonight. Most Cinderellas have gone home, but NC State hasn't given up the slippers. And on the women's side, Colorado versus Iowa in the Sweet 16. And an update on an important story that's left heads shaking. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: Sure. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: We're going to get to the Elite Eight in just a moment, but last night's biggest result - North Carolina State, an 11-seed, is on to the Elite Eight with a win over Marquette. Who are these guys?

STEELE: Yeah. We're finally getting some madness. It's March Madness for a reason. And NC State is the only double-digit seed left standing, headed to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986. Jim Valvano was coaching back then. So it's been - yeah, it's been a while. They've got a storied history, clearly, but for a long time they were really seen as a little brother of the bigger programs down the road - you know, Duke and North Carolina. Well, guess what? UNC isn't in the tourney anymore, and Duke plays NC State tomorrow for a trip to the Final Four.

SIMON: In the West, Alabama and Clemson play each other. And it's not the Orange Bowl, right?

STEELE: Yeah. Weird territory for these two schools, right? You might think it's the Sugar Bowl, not the Elite Eight, but history will be made tonight when those nets get cut down because neither Alabama nor Clemson have ever been to a Final Four, Scott.

SIMON: In the East, UConn - and by the way, since this is NPR, we need to explain this as a school on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, not the Canadian Arctic...


SIMON: ...Has been overwhelming so far in the tournament, haven't they?

STEELE: Yeah, but I should say Boston tonight, where the game will be played, will very much be Yukon...

SIMON: Yeah, territory.

STEELE: ...Territory.

SIMON: Right. Yeah.

STEELE: Not too far away from Storrs, Conn. But yeah, UConn has trailed in this tournament for a grand total, Scott, of 28 seconds. They've won every game in the tournament by an average of 28 points. I think dominant is the word there.

SIMON: I got to ask about Terrence Shannon of the Illini. He's been the player of the tournament. At the same time, some people wonder if he should even be in the lineup, given serious legal charges against him.

STEELE: Sure - best player in the tournament, most polarizing player as well. He was suspended by the Illini in December after he was charged with rape for an alleged incident. Now, he has maintained his innocence. He sued the school to get reinstated. A judge agreed, and he got back on the team. And he has led Illinois now to its first Elite Eight berth in 19 years. No understatement to say he will be the linchpin tonight if they're able to beat UConn. And that criminal case is pending. He is not talking to reporters, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah. I want to get to the women's side. Colorado Buffaloes face the Iowa Hawkeyes and Caitlin Clark in the Sweet 16. What kind of game do you expect?

STEELE: You know, these tournaments are win or go home. And with a generational star like Caitlin Clark right on the court...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Every game is must-see TV 'cause it could be her last as a collegiate player. And she leads the NCAA right now in points and assists. Teams cannot stop her. I think if Colorado has a chance, they want to try to slow her down from getting into double-digit assists and getting the rest of the team involved and make this a one-woman show. They got to cross their fingers, though.

SIMON: Finally, an update on one of the most important stories of the year. Let's not bobble it, Michele.

STEELE: (Laughter) I like what you did there, Scott. Yes, we told you earlier this month about 19,000 Jaromir Jagr bobbleheads that the Pittsburgh Penguins planned to give away. Well, guess what? Thieves absconded with said bobbleheads. Well, they've been found in a warehouse in Ontario, Calif. Luckily for Pens fans, they'll be given away next week.

SIMON: Michele, thanks for staying on the case for us. Thanks very much. Michele Steele of...

STEELE: Always.

SIMON: Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much.

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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.