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New Storm Threat Today After Tornadoes Tear Through The South; GA Governor Issues State Of Emergency Following Severe Storms; Putin: Russia Will Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus; The Challenges Of Reporting From China; Netanyahu Fires Defense Minister After He Calls For Pause on Reforms; Longshot Florida Atlantic Makes Magical Run To Men's Final Four. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 26, 2023 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

And we begin this hour with recovery efforts across the south and a new severe weather threat emerging just days after a devastating tornado outbreak. Right now, more than 20 million people are facing a new storm threat in the Midwest and South.

The Storm Prediction Center upgrading the risk expecting more tornadoes in Mississippi and Alabama and that includes areas like Rolling Fork, Mississippi, already reeling after being obliterated by an EF 4 tornado overnight on Friday. The death toll from this weekend's storms rising to 26.

President Biden approving Mississippi's disaster declaration, freeing up federal resources. And today, the heads of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security toured the damage alongside Mississippi's governor, saying just this a short time ago.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: What we have come to do, we've come to see it in person to communicate to the people of Mississippi. That we are here, not just today, but for the long haul.

It is heartbreaking to hear of the loss of life to see the devastation first hand. It is also as the governor expressed inspiring to see the people of Mississippi come together. The president has directed us to be here. To assist the people of Mississippi. To be here on an enduring basis, not just through the response, but through the recovery as well.

We are mindful of the fact that that will take time. But we are here for the time it will take.

DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is going to be a long term recovery event and we can see just where we're standing here that one of the major issues that we're going to face is housing and how do we help.

Number one concerns is still life safety because you look around here and you look at the debris, I just really encourage everybody to remain vigilant. Stay cautious.


WHITFIELD: For more now on the severe weather threats happening today, let's bring in CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Allison, here we go again, right? There's more on the way.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right. We've got two separate waves. We've got that first wave from this morning that's still kind of making its way through the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama. But we have a new portion that's developing across eastern Texas. And that's going to be the more concerning one going forward.

We have a brand new tornado watch that was just issued. This is going to be valid until 7:00 p.m. Central Time tonight for areas of Eastern Texas as well as portions of Louisiana because as these thunderstorms begin to develop and fire up, they are expected to intensify very quickly and could turn into again some very severe thunderstorms.

Already so far today we've had numerous reports of tornadoes, wind damage as well as some very large hail, and that's expected to continue through the day today.

Again, overall the threat will extend from eastern Texas all the way over through North Carolina. We do expect a couple of tornadoes, large to very large hail. We're talking the size of tennis balls or even larger. And then some damaging winds.

Again, this particular area here where you see an orange and red, that's going to be the biggest area of concern, especially for tornadoes. Here's a look at the timing. Again, those storms are going to develop in eastern Texas pushing into Louisiana, but eventually they are going to spread over into Mississippi, Alabama, and eventually into Georgia as we make our way through the rest of the day.

And unfortunately, yes that does include the areas that were just hit on Friday night. One of the other concerns is also going to be rain because Fred, it's multiple waves here and multiple days so that ground is already saturated, and now we're going to be adding an additional 2 to 5 inches of rain on top of it.

WHITFIELD: All right, we appreciate the warnings. Thank you so much, Allison Chinchar.

So for communities still dealing with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes. Today's new threats could have a disastrous effect on recovery efforts.

Let's turn now to CNN's Isabel Rosales live there from Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Isabel how are recovery efforts going today, how are people feeling on this Sunday?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Fred. Good evening to you. Yes I just wrapped up the press conference with the governor, also the secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and also the FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell. And they were keeping their eyes very close to that severe weather potential that you guys were just discussing.


ROSALES: They say that they have the resources available and can quickly activate any sort of help that Mississippi, even Alabama might need with a fresh round of possible tornadoes on the way. Now, in terms of what is happening here, we have clarified with the Mississippi Department of Emergency Management that they are doing search and rescue operations.

Those are still ongoing for anyone who might be in distress from the Friday storms, but as far as the four people who were initially reported as missing, those people have been accounted for.

But I got to tell you, Fred, just walking the grounds here it is just heart-wrenching to see so many people with only the clothes on their backs really, looking at piles of debris of what used to be their homes. They've got nothing, including one resident I spoke with who managed to only pull out a piece of luggage with a pair of tennis shoes, a couple of articles of clothing. He doesn't know when -- where he's going to sleep tonight.

So a lot of people are relying on leadership that we're seeing on the ground here to figure out what's next? How do they rebuild? Where do they get food, water, what temporary housing can they get.

Even before the press conference started, the leadership here they took 20 minutes to walk around and kind of absorb for themselves the aftermath of this tornado. We saw at times emotional moments of them hugging with people, crying with people, hearing their stories of survival, including one person who survived in a freezer as the restaurant his -- and his place of work was crashing around him from this tornado.

I want you to now listen to Governor Tate Reeves of what he spoke about the resiliency of the people of Mississippi.


GOVERNOR TATE REEVES (R-MS): What we've seen over the last 36 hours in Mississippi, on the one hand has been heartbreaking to see the loss and devastation of these communities, but on the other hand has been inspiring and gives me great reason for optimism and quite frankly, makes me damn proud to be a Mississippian because Mississippians have done what Mississippians do in times of tragedy, in times of crisis they stand up and they show up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROSALES: And Secretary Mayorkas said quote "We are here for the long haul," saying that there is no substitution as a cabinet member of the highest ranking person up at that podium to seeing this damage in person. He says that the resources will come here and quickly. That's his vow, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Isabel Rosales thank you so much. We'll check back with you.

All right now to west Georgia, near the Alabama border, where at least three people are hurt and several homes destroyed after a tornado barreled through Troup County this morning. Look at the damage.

This is what it looks like in the city of LaGrange, about 70 miles southwest of Atlanta, and you can see the storm snapped power line, toppled trees, did a lot of home damage, building damage. And all that debris well, now it's creating a real mess on the roads as well and forcing officials to temporarily close Interstate 85 through the area while they tried to clear the highway.

Georgia's governor has issued a state of emergency in the wake of the severe storms, and so far there have been no reports of any fatalities thankfully.

Well, joining me right now is Daniel Evans. He is the president and publisher of "LaGrange Daily News" in Georgia. Daniel so good to see you.

So tell us about what the city looks like beyond and we saw some of the images. I mean, it's a real mess, but give me an idea how people are combing through the debris navigating through the debris.

DANIEL EVANS, PUBLISHER, "LAGRANGE DAILY NEWS": Yes this is -- this is something that people in LaGrange and Troup County are tired of dealing with, frankly. At this point, we have had four tornadoes since January 12th this year that have impacted Troup County. So unfortunately, this is something that we're getting used to.

But you know, we've had trees down on roadways, on houses, five injuries in Troup County. No fatalities at this time. So we're very blessed that thankfully nobody has been killed in this storm, which came through very early this morning.

WHITFIELD: Wow so this is very unique to have been hit four times already this year. I mean, customarily, is this area considered kind of part of the so called tornado alley?

EVANS: No we typically do not see anything like this. But we had two tornadoes hit January 12th. And then we had a surprise tornado in February that hit our area. And then this morning I personally was woken up by tornado sirens and, uh, a lot of hell hitting our roof for three or four minutes. So it's just become something pretty common here unfortunately in 2023.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And very frightening.

Georgia's governor has issued a state of emergency. So what are the resources that people in your community need?


EVANS: Well, I think the biggest thing that people need to do here locally is just stay off the roadways. We've had tons of rain. I know you guys were just talking about the forecast for the rest of the day.

There is a lot of water on the roadways. We've heard of several accidents that have taken place. As far as what, you know, individuals need, I think that we see it over and over here in Georgia where, you know, neighbors come out and assist and help and people are cutting trees off roads.

There has been such an outpouring of support like there always is locally because LaGrange is a very giving community and it's what makes it such a great place to live.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And Daniel, among the many reasons why people love living there, I mean, it's a peaceful place to live. But you also have quite the tourist attraction there in an animal safari park. And I understand as a result of this storm two tigers actually got out. But they have since been found and relocated right, to a safe enclosure.

But tell me, you, know about how frightening that might have been, what people knew about that, if there were any sightings before those two tigers were recaptured.

EVANS: Yes, so the wild animal safari and nearby pine mountain, two tigers apparently got out of their enclosure this morning and within probably a couple of hours they were both tranquilized. And as far as we know that there are no sightings or anything, I believe that they were actually found inside the park. Thank goodness.

And that takes -- that situation was taken care of pretty quickly.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank goodness indeed. Daniel Evans, all the best to you and all your neighbors there as you try to pick up the pieces. Thanks so much.

EVANS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: For more information on how you can help the victims of the deadly tornadoes and severe storms that swept through the south you can go to

All right. Still ahead, Vladimir Putin says Russia is getting ready to send nuclear weapons to nearby Belarus. We'll go live to Kyiv for Ukraine's reaction to having those weapons in a neighboring country.



WHITFIELD: Russian plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. The announcement was made by Russian president Vladimir Putin in a television interview. Putin says Moscow will maintain control of the weapons and insisted the plan would not violate any non proliferation agreements.

The U.S. State Department says the move doesn't change its strategy with Russia, telling CNN, I'm quoting now, "We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon," end quote.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Kyiv. Ben, what are Ukrainian officials saying about this?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, well the Ukrainians are understandably not happy with this move announced by President Putin. The foreign ministry here is calling for an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council to condemn it. They are hoping that not only the U.S., France and the U.K. will condemn it, but also China as well.

Now we did hear from a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy here. He described this plan by the Russian president as a sign he's afraid of losing the war and is thus resorting to scare tactics, Fredricka.

All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much in Kyiv.

All right. Coming up as the relationship between the U.S. and China continues to deteriorate, a unique look at the long, intense history of American journalists reporting in China. Veteran CNN journalist Mike Chinoy, who spent decades covering China, joins me live next.



WHITFIELD: All right. This just in to CNN, the city of Philadelphia is recommending the use of bottled water for all residents following a toxic chemical spill in the nearby Delaware River in the Bristol Township area of Bucks County. Philly's municipal water serves about 1.5 million people. The city sent push alerts to cell phones today, urging people to drink bottled water, quote, "out of caution due to the dangers posed by the chemical spill". Some stores already say they are limiting bottled water sales because of shortages.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week grilling TikTok's CEO over the incredibly popular apps' data collection and its Chinese ownership.

Well today, Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner again raising the alarm over what China could do with U.S. users information.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-IN): At the end of the day. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company ByteDance and by Chinese law, that company has to be willing to turn over data to the Communist Party or -- one of my bigger fears, we've got 150 million Americans on TikTok average of about 90 minutes a day and how that channel could be used for propaganda purposes or mis or disinformation advocated by the Communist Party. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The concerns over TikTok highlight how difficult it can be to get reliable information out of China's leadership and how that makes it challenging for western media as well to cover Beijing.

Mike Chinoy is CNN's former Beijing bureau chief. He's also the author of a new book "Assignment: China" which looks at the history of American journalists covering China.

Mike, so good to see you. It's been a long time.


WHITFIELD: Wonderful.

Well this whole TikTok issue, I mean, is this a sort of microcosm of how China is interested and fascinated or maybe even obsessed with American consumers, but then wants nothing to do with the freedoms us. Consumers have.

CHINOY: Well the Chinese have pioneered all sorts of interesting technological -- technological innovations and TikTok is a very attractive product.

It's a -- it's a bit of a complicated situation. In the Chinese system, vast quantities of information is kind of -- kind of vacuumed up both within China for its own citizens and around the world. But most of it -- it just sort of goes off into nowhere.

But what the nature of the Chinese system is that if the Chinese security apparatus wants information on a particular person, the parent company of TikTok, it would be under intense pressure to turn that over.


CHINOY: Does it mean that every school kid who's putting out dances on TikTok is being monitored by the Chinese secret police? Absolutely not. But the potential is there.

But it's very complicated, not least because in the U.S. there's a tradition, freedom of information and so on. So how you regulate it is a very tough challenge. Complicated indeed.

Hey, let's talk about what is also very complicated. The journey of a journalist, you know, covering China. I mean, you write about, you know the golden age and how the golden age of covering China really is over in early 2020. You know you -- you write that nearly 20 journalists from the "New York Times" to the "Washington Post", "Wall Street Journal" were expelled, kicked out of the country.

So even before that western journalists have been known to be followed, even harassed. Are you saying, you know that something is different now in the leadership of Xi Jinping? CHINOY: Well, my book "Assignment: China" is based on over 100 interviews I did with journalists who covered China from the late 1940s, when the communists seized power, to the present day, and the idea is basically the way in which most Americans get their information about China is from the media and most media.

And most consumers of media have no idea how the reporters on the ground actually did their jobs. And so to get the people who told the China story, to tell the behind the scenes story of how they did that -- I think it's both interesting and valuable.

The challenge has been up and down, depending on the state of U.S.- China relations and domestic Chinese politics. There were 30 years or so when Americans weren't allowed, journalists weren't allowed into China at all.

As China embarked on its program of economic reform in the late 70s, and then on into the 80s and beyond, conditions for journalists got better, more journalists were allowed in. I opened the CNN Beijing bureau, for example, in 1987. And that sort of peaked in the early 2000s around the time when China got the 2008 Olympics.

But under Xi Jinping, who has imposed much tighter controls internally in China, reimposed much tougher ideological education, been much more hostile to foreign influence. The Chinese Communist Party wants to control the narrative not only inside China but around the world.

So that's meant in recent years much more pressure on American journalists. There are a lot fewer reporters for American media there now, the conditions they face are much tougher. And so people are having to cover China from outside the country, which is what it was like decades ago. It's almost come full circle on that journey that -- people who cover (INAUDIBLE) recount in my book "Assignment: China".

WHITFIELD: And I don't know if you'll ever return, but we were just looking back at some of your stand ups, you know, reporting there in Beijing right outside Tiananmen Square in some cases, too. It's fun to look back, you know, and see your own coverage there -- and there we are right there.

So you know, getting to the truth, you know, you have learned it is hard in China, you know, from the opulent, shiny construction of cities, the country is proud to show off, even if there are no people living or working there. You know, to the food that you wrote about that was brought in to impress foreigners.

So if it was that way for you, you know, when you were the bureau chief in the late 80s and the 90s and early 2000s how do you describe information dissemination today?

CHINOY: It's very tough because Xi Jinping has imposed this much harsher internal rule. I think in some ways, journalists and others know less about the high level politics in China now than we did when I was starting out as a fledgling China watcher sitting in Hong Kong not able to go to China in the mid-1970s. There are, however very interesting tools for following China beyond

just perusing the official Chinese media for clues about who's up and who's down. The Chinese Internet has got a lot of fascinating material despite the censorship.

There's commercially available satellite imagery, which has allowed reporters for example, to document the detention camps for Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, satellite images showed like large numbers of cars at crematoriums in China after the Chinese government ended its zero COVID policy late last year. Contrary to the government's official line about how many people had actually died.

But the bottom line is by not having a lot of reporters there, not being able to get around the country you lose the opportunity. Journalists lose the opportunity to convey a sense of the texture, the complexity and humanity of this enormous country.

1.3 billion people going about their lives, and we're not getting that. So instead of the headlines are all U.S.-China conflict, threats, tensions, but what daily life is like for ordinary Chinese is much harder to get to for reporters and to convey.

And so that makes the China -- the portrayal of China more one dimensional at a time when we need to understand the full complexity of Chinese society even more because the deteriorating state of U.S.- China relations.


WHITFIELD: But you're also underscoring some of those channels of communication come at great risk that some Chinese citizens are willing to take in order to help, you know, convey what is really happening, whether it'd be during COVID or, you know, or otherwise. I wonder, too, you know, as it pertains to the leadership of Xi Jinping, how is all of this kind of representative of the kind of influence or leadership in the world that President Xi is trying to exert?

CHINOY: What -- you know, there's some discussion. You hear some politicians in the state talk about China as an existential threat. I would put it differently. I think Xi Jinping's goal is to make the world safe for the Chinese communist party and that involves tighter control at home, and it involves flexing China's considerable economic and diplomatic and sometimes military muscle to get its way internationally, and to put pressure on those acting or saying things that Beijing doesn't like.

So China has always been able to control the narrative internally because there's no free press, but increasingly now, there has been pressure around the world, get to go after voices that are critical of China. And so I think you see this in Australia -- you see it in lots of different places where pressure has been brought to bear to shape the discussion in ways favorable to China.

And that's another real challenge for journalists whether they're in China or outside trying to get at the truth because access is limited. And there are these pressures that people have to be aware of.

WHITFIELD: Mike Chinoy, great talking to you again. Congratulations on your book.

CHINOY: Thanks so much for having me.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.

And this quick programming note, actress and activist Eva Longoria is proud of her Mexican roots and deeply connected to the country she calls her second home. And now in the new CNN original series "SEARCHING FOR MEXICO", Longoria is taking us on a journey across the country to see how it's people, cultural landscape and history have shaped its diverse cuisine.

Here's a preview.


EVA LONGORIA, CNN HOST: I don't know the secret to happiness. All I know is every time I eat Mexican food, I'm happy.

I'm Eva Longoria, born and bred in Texas, with Mexican American roots.

I'm going to get a t shirt that says more, falta.

I'm exploring Mexico to see how the people their lands, and their past have shaped a culinary tradition as diverse as its 32 states.


Today, we are going to be making our food pilgrimage.

Look at that.

I don't know if I've ever been this excited to eat anything.

(translated): How do I do this? Cut it like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Like this.

LONGORIA: I was going to do this. That's why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): You can also do that.

LONGORIA: The people here are so secure in who they are and where they come from.

(translated): You are an artist.

But you guys are amazing storytellers.


LONGORIA: Mexico is going through a major makeover to emerge as one of the world's greatest food destinations. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what brings people to Mexico? The food

culture. I fell in love with it.


ANNOUNCER: "EVA LONGORIA: SEARCHING FOR MEXICO" premieres tonight at 10:00 on CNN.




WHITFIELD: All right. This breaking news just in to CNN. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fired his defense minister. The move comes after the minister called for a pause on the government's controversial judicial overhaul. The reforms have sparked weeks of protests across Israel.

CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem.

Hadas, was this move expected given the minister's comments?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was something that the far right wing ministers and Netanyahu's government were calling for, and it seems as though their voices may have won out. As you noted last night, in a surprise address, the Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who is a member of Netanyahu's own party, made a striking speech, saying that this massive judicial overhaul that's being pushed through by this government is a threat to Israel's national security.

Now, to remind you, this reform would essentially give a massive amount of power to the politicians in Israel, to the Israeli parliament, allowing them to even overrun ride certain Supreme Court decisions. As you noted, this has sparked massive protests in the streets, but especially for the defense minister. It's also caused and protests within the Israeli military reserve.

Some of the reservists, including some of the elite members of the air force reserve, have said that they will not heed the call to serve if this legislation passes because they will no longer feel as though they are serving a democracy. Clearly, he has had consultations with other members of the security officials, including the heads of the security agencies, the head of the Israeli military. And they came to the conclusion that this reforms while there are reforms needed, the reforms needed to at least be halted, frozen for a few weeks to help calm situation down.

Now, we didn't hear anything from the prime minister who was actually in London while the speech was being made until just a few minutes ago, when a simple statement came out, saying the prime minister had to fire the defense minister.

We are hearing from an official in the prime minister's office, saying that the prime minister had lost confidence in the defense minister after he acted against the government and against the coalition while the prime minister was abroad, saying that the minister of defense did not coordinate his words of the prime minister in advance, and that's sabotage efforts to reach a solution.

Of course, there's an outpouring of anger at this move because members of the opposition were lauding the defense minister for the courage to come out against his own prime minister against the government and say that these reforms needed to be halted.

We're hearing from the protest movement that they're going to be taking to the streets in the next few minutes to protest this move. We're also hearing from the opposition leader and former prime minister, Yair Lapid, who was saying that that this -- that the prime minister of Israel now he's saying is a danger to the security of the state of Israel.


So, again, the opposition leader is saying that the prime minister himself is now a danger to the security to the state of Israel because he fired the defense minister. It is not clear yet who will be the new defense minister, because keep in mind, this is a very sensitive time on the security element for Israel. This has been an incredibly violent year between Israelis and Palestinians.

We're already at record levels of death. There's been nearly daily raids in the West Bank. The idea of saying they're targeting Palestinian militants. There's been several attacks targeting Israelis, killing at least a dozen people just at the beginning of the year.

And keep in mind -- also, Ramadan has begun. This is an incredibly sensitive time also for Jerusalem, Passover and Easter are coming up as well. There's a myriad of security threats that Israel constantly is talking about, whether it be Iran, whether it be Hezbollah and Lebanon, and now the Israeli government is without its defense minister, and it's not clear where things go from here.

And also, where does the judicial overhaul go from here? Last we heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's going to push things forward, but I have never seen the Israeli society where it is right now as divisive as it is right now, and I can tell you that it feels incredibly tense and potentially incredibly dangerous -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Some incredible developments there. Hadas Gold, thank you so much.

Still ahead, we're on the ground in Mississippi, where major recovery efforts are underway after widespread tornadoes tore through the state and more storms are on the way today. The latest straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right. Hollywood is reeling this morning as one of its brightest stars faces some very serious charges. Actor Jonathan Majors was arrested in New York for an alleged assault during a domestic dispute. Police say the victim, the alleged victim, a 30-year-old woman suffered minor injuries to her head and neck. Majors has starred in some of the biggest movies of the year, including "Creed 3" and "Ant Man and the Wasp", "Quantum Mania".

Majors is also featured in several recruiting ads for the U.S. Army. A spokesperson says those ads are now being pulled. A representative for Majors says he has done nothing wrong and looks forward to clearing his name.

All right. By the end of today, March Madness will be down to its Final Four teams for the men's bracket, and today, the women's bracket will see the first teams join the Final Four. Saturday's showdowns saw yet another round of upsets, and today more long shots will have a chance to move one step closer to a national championship.

Here now is CNN's Coy Wire with the details.



March Madness has been wilder than ever. Nine seed Florida Atlantic making a magical run, just 0.7 percent of the tens of millions of brackets had the Owls making it this far. But here they are headed to Houston. FAU and they're seven ft one, Vlad Goldin took down three seed Kansas State 79-76 to make it to the Final Four for the first time ever.

Their basketball program didn't even exist 35 years ago. They didn't have a March Madness win until 10 days ago, and they plan an arena that holds just 2,900 people. Now they're headed to the biggest stage in the game, making memories along the way.

DUSTY MAY, FLORIDA ATLANTIC HEAD COACH: They're going to have a special bond forever. But they would have -- this group would have a special bond forever. If we would have gotten knocked out in the conference tournament, not made the tournament. It's who they are, like I said before. It's just awesome to see a guy -- a group of guys that that deserve this 100 percent for it to happen for them.

WIRE: Yukon is back, handing three seed Gonzaga their worst loss of the season. They beat them by 28 points, Fredricka.

Coach Dan Hurley has this team steamrolling everyone this tournament, though they've beaten their four opponents thus far by an average of 22. Coach Hurley, one of the most fiery coaches in college hoops, cutting down the net, afterwards realized didn't even need the scissors.

Yukon, the only team in the final four on the men's side that's ever won a national title last time was 2014.

Now, as for the Yukon women's team, different story, the Huskies are out, not in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. Ohio State, shaking things up on the women's bracket, dominating with defense, forcing 18 turnovers in the first half. Yukon only average 16 all season.

The Buckeyes into the lead eight for the first time in 30 years with a 73-61 win, ending Yukon's record streak of 16 straight trips to the Elite Eight. No women's or men's team had ever done that.

Fredricka, the defending champs, South Carolina are still big time favorites to win on the women's side. They haven't lost a game in more than a year to Elite Eight games today for the women, two tomorrow.

And on the men's side, we'll know by the end of the day, which two teams will be joining Florida Atlantic and Yukon in the Final Four next weekend.


WHITFIELD: Oh way exciting.

All right. Thank you so much, Coy Wire.

So, the NCAA men's tournament has seen some great players during March madness and among the standout men's teams making many championship appearances, Duke University. And one player for Duke who has stood out for all the records that he has held, Christian Laettner. Duke's Laettner holds the record for most points, most free throws made and attempted. He also won and played and more games and another player, any other player in NCAA history.

And during his four years at Duke University in the early 1990s, Laettner and his Blue Devil teammates made four Final Four trips.


And he won two national titles with the team in 1991 and 1992 on a roll.

He's still on a roll. Christian Laettner joining us right now.

Hey, Christian. Good to see you.

So do you relive your days, you know, on every March Madness, particularly this one right now?

CHRISTIAN LAETTNER, FORMER NBA PLAYER AND DUKE ALL-AMERICAN: In my mind, I forget about them. But thank god for the TV, I get to, you know, relive it every year. And March Madness is special, and it's really weird seeing yourself and TV 30 years ago and I looked nothing like I did then. So, my age is (AUDIO GAP).

WHITFIELD: Oh but, you know, this age, it's about being seasoned, further seasoned. So it's all good.

So what do you -- what do you enjoying as you watch, you know, the teams? I mean, that the game is still the game. Some of the rules of play have changed a little bit, especially with the NILs and, you know, players now able to, you know, make some money off their name, their image, their likeness, and all that.

But, you know, what I guess is most gratifying or exciting about, you know, what you see in these college players today?

LAETTNER: The most exciting thing about March Madness and why it's the best sporting event, you know, in the history of mankind is because of the one and done. It only takes one game.

Even if you're a 16 seed playing against the number one seed, and we see it every year, including this year, is that a 16 seed can just zone out and play one great game and they can be the number one seed.

So I think that's the see -- the thing that makes it so exciting, the thing that draws people in. It gives every team and all their fan base and the players on the team, it gives everyone the chance, the belief, that, hey, if we played great for one game, we can move on in the tournament.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that is so true. We've seen that already, right? And then this month -- I mean, you know, this month's March Madness, you know, attorney we've seen players make several last second shots to win big games in 1992 against Kentucky in the Elite Eight game, you hit one of the most famous buzzer beater shots in March Madness history.

I mean, you know, you said, sometimes you are kind of reliving this all over again. But when you see kind of those almost in -- you guys were not a Cinderella team. But when you see some of those Cinderella moments as we have seen this month, I mean, what do you think about how transformative it is for those individual players, for the team as a whole for those colleges?

LAETTNER: It's just so great because it gives everyone a chance. I mean, everyone in the world there, you know, if you're playing sports if you're in your life, you just want a chance. You want a good shot to win something or to be successful at something.

So the fact that it's just one game, you know, in the NBA in the playoff series, you got to win four games out of a seven-game series. So that's a lot harder. It's not so much the Cinderella type team, you know, might win.

So just that fact that it's -- that it's -- you can zone out for one game and be a Cinderella team and be the number one seed, I think that's the thing that makes it so exciting.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and unpredictable, right? I mean, your -- you know, speaking of unpredictability -- your alma mater, Duke, I mean, lost in the second round of this year's tournament. So based on what you've seen so far, who's your favorite for the men and maybe for the women, too?

LAETTNER: Well, right now for the men, I'm picking Miami because I got to stick with my conference, SEC. So even though everyone out of it, and Miami University is still in it.


LAETTNER: o I'm pulling for the Hurricanes right now, and I hope they win later today. But I just can't tell you how much of a fan I am of March Madness and I go to every Final Four and I love it.

And when I was playing, I hope I made it obvious that I love the Final Four, and I tried to make sure my team went to every Final Four and we did. We got very lucky and we were able to be there every year. But just --

WHITFIELD: Oh, you're going to try to be in Houston?

LAETTNER: I will be in Houston. I'll be there in person like I am every, year and I'll be there working.

WHITFIELD: That's great.

LAETTNER: I'm going to bracket town. I'll be going to the games and the thing about this year. That's exciting for me is I'm taking my son. I have a 17-year-old son.

WHITFIELD: Oh, nice. Wow.

LAETTNER: So I'm taking him for the first time since he was probably like seven where he can't remember when he was seven.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's great. Well, he will feel the magic and, of course, always feeling the magic with you, Christian Laettner.

That's so exciting. Have fun at the Final Four, the championship in Houston. I'm going to go with a Yukon because women have dominated for so many years.


But now, it's the men's team. It's their turn. And then for the women, I'm going to go with my dad's alma mater, Ohio State University. So we'll see what happens.

LAETTNER: Okay, Fredricka, thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Christian Laettner, good to see you. Thanks so much, safe travels to Houston.

All right, and this quick programming note, Adam Sandler and his friends are coming to CNN. The Kennedy Center presents the Mark Twain prize for American humor celebrating Adam Sandler. Tonight, 8:00 Eastern Time, right here on CNN.


ADAM SANDLER, ACTOR: Hello. My name is Adam Sandler. And I am the 2023. Mark Twain Humor Prize Award recipient for greatness in American funny and bringing the thunderous belly laughter this week. People of Planet Earth, can I get a hell, yeah? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love it when you're you scream shit at me off camera like funny things to say, and I just try and say them like you. And then when I hear you laugh at the funny thing you told me to say, I'm in heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew that we were cinematic soulmates like Hepburn and Tracy.


CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: You're making a terrible, terrible mistake. Good God in heaven, Kennedy Center. What have you done? No award has screwed up this badly since the MacArthur genius grant was given to Vin Diesel. Seriously, people have not been this shock since they won a Latin Grammy.