NPR新闻:Undefeated Kentucky Vies For Perfection As It Enters Final Four

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're down to the Final Four in the men's Division I college basketball tournament. Tomorrow, in Indianapolis, Duke plays Michigan State and Wisconsin plays overall number-one seed, Kentucky. The story of the tournament remains Kentucky's quest. If the Wildcats can win their last two games, they'll be the first top division men's team since 1976 to finish undefeated - the perfect season. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been thinking about what it means to be perfect and filed this report.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: We often turn to sports when real life fails us, when, for instance, the ideal of perfection comes up short - perfect relationship not so perfect, annoying boss ruining the perfect job. Behold the major league pitcher.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Throw to first. He did it. He did it. Dallas Braden just throwed a perfect game.

GOLDMAN: Or the Olympic gymnast.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1976 SUMMER OLYMPICS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Look at that - whoa to the handstand. Gorgeous routine - beautiful. And the crowd loves it.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And it is...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A perfect 10.

GOLDMAN: Nadia Comaneci's first-ever perfect score at the 1976 Summer Olympics became a touchstone. In the 39 years since, the celebration of any accomplishment in any walk of life often was accompanied by a perfect 10. Comaneci has had 39 years to think about what perfection means.

NADIA COMANECI: It's like climbing a ladder and who gets there first the quickest is the one that achieves perfection.

GOLDMAN: But the definition seems to rest more comfortably on numbers. A pitcher prevents 27 straight batters from getting to first base. The 1972 Miami Dolphins win 17 straight games - perfection based on numbers. Do we find true meaning of the word, then, in the world of mathematics?

TIM CHARTIER: If there is a perfection point, it's more like the idea in calculus that it's a limit. And it may not be attainable, but theoretically you can reach it.

GOLDMAN: Davidson College math professor Tim Chartier is an applied mathematician rather than theoretical. So he tends toward the perfection-is-elusive school of thought, even in his world of numbers. Interestingly, Chartier has made a unique connection to Davidson basketball. He and some of his students have helped the men's team with stats and analytics to the extent they're considered team members. The concept of perfection has worked its way into Davidson hoops as well. In every game, Chartier says, Head Coach Bob McKillop monitors 15 categories of team statistics.

CHARTIER: If you were to meet those numeric thresholds on all of them then you would have a perfect game.

GOLDMAN: Which is what happened a few years ago when, according to assistant coach Matt McKillop, the coach's son, Davidson had a perfect game. But - and here's where things start to unravel - Matt says while the team hit those statistical marks for perfection...

BOB MCKILLOP: Many, many mistakes were made in that game. We could have done a little bit better.

GOLDMAN: Sounds like Nadia Comaneci when asked about her perfect routine in Montreal.

COMANECI: I thought I could've done better (laughter).

GOLDMAN: And this from the man leading the current quest for perfection, although Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari won't call it that.

JOHN CALIPARI: We know we're not perfect. We're undefeated, but we're not perfect.

GOLDMAN: So is that the imperfect end to this story; that perfection isn't attainable, that it's really the striving toward the ideal that matters? Perhaps, but one thing is certain. Tomorrow, Wisconsin will do all it can to ensure nobody's perfect or undefeated. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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