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NCAA championship: Kansas is going for its 4th national title against North Carolina


After a month of thrills and heartbreak in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, tonight is the championship game. No. 1 seed Kansas is going for its fourth national title against the University of North Carolina. Jeff Tiberii with member station WUNC says their fans see tonight's game as almost anticlimactic after the Tar Heels beat hated rival Duke in a semifinal on Saturday.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Playing for a national championship is definitely a big deal. But for UNC fans, beating Duke and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski to get there ranks as one of the school's biggest moments. John Johnson is a 1977 UNC graduate.

JOHN JOHNSON: Well, let's put it this way. There isn't a lot that could get a 66-year-old man that excited (laughter).

TIBERII: Krzyzewski was trying to make his final game before retirement the sixth national title for Duke. And Johnson, like many of the Tar Heel faithful, feel very happy that the dream ended at the hands of their team.

JOHNSON: Well, I guess it's terrible to say it, but I love it. How ironic. How poetic.

TIBERII: Duke and Krzyzewski had ruined plenty of UNC dreams during his 42 years as head coach. And Sarah Steel liked the sendoff.

SARAH STEEL: It was just joyous. It was just joyous. You can't even put it into words, the elation that I felt. And I have - and I'm sure all of Tarheel Nation felt as well.

TIBERII: So tonight's match up against Kansas, John Johnson says...

JOHNSON: I got a feeling Monday night's - I don't know. But Monday night, for a lot of us, are going to be an anticlimax.

TIBERII: Now Carolina turns its attention toward the championship, and there is plenty of history between these schools, too. In 1957, UNC defeated Kansas in a triple overtime national championship classic. Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith, who coached UNC to three national titles during a 36-year run, went to Kansas. And the Tar Heels' first-year head coach Hubert Davis was on a UNC team that lost to Kansas in the 1991's Final Four.

HUBERT DAVIS: That was the toughest loss that I've ever experienced in my entire life.

TIBERII: Davis now leads a UNC team that was in danger of not even making the NCAA tournament two months ago. Now vying for the title, he says a key for this team is keeping 6'10" junior center Armando Bacot on the floor.

DAVIS: Offensively, we run it. We want to throw the ball to him in the post at all times. And so I understand that there's going to be contact there, and it's just - plain and simple, we're a better team with him on the floor. So was just managing his fouls to make sure that he stays in the game.

TIBERII: Kansas enters as the favorite, having won ten straight games and clicking offensively for the last month. In Chapel Hill, junior Aiyana Woldu walked across campus with her puppy, admittedly nervous, though optimistic about the final game of the season.

AIYANA WOLDU: It's going to be close. I pray that UNC comes out on top just because of the momentum that we've had this season. And I think they're backing - we're backing the right team, and I think we're going to come out victorious.

TIBERII: Tonight in New Orleans, Kansas hopes to claim its fourth national championship. UNC is vying for its seventh NCAA tournament title. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.