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I guess this is the only thing I write about when I come to Iowa City. "Here's how Robert got lost and couldn't find his way into the game for the second time in 16 days". The whole article won't be about that. I'll use it as a launch point to talk about the game. But there's no way to talk about the game without starting there.
And I swear I'm not trying to be this way. I probably should arrive an hour ahead of time to make sure these adventures don't cost me anything, but tonight I had a dinner set up with a subscriber (thanks again, btw) and I left the restaurant for the game 30 minutes before tipoff. Media parking is right by the stadium so I should be fine.
The next hour was just a disaster. I know it has to be 100% me at this point, but tonight's journey was basically the old Family Circus cartoon when they would trace the kid's journey home from the park. In fact, let's do that.
Blue is driving. Red is walking. The green circle is where I thought I was headed while driving.
So I drive in from the left side there. My parking pass is for Zone C parking, and the PDF map shows Zone C parking as the right side of that parking lot there where you enter at the green circle. So I drop a pin at the Green circle and let GPS take me from the restaurant to there.
When I get to that intersection, there's a car that has tried to pull in there. The gate is down (I guess it doesn't open during games), and that car is trying to back out (into bumper-to-bumper traffic, no less). So I can't go left into Zone C parking. I don't think anyone can enter Zone C parking there.
So I go all the way down the hill and turn around (right side of photo where the blue line loops around) and then get back in the line of traffic heading up the hill. That's when I tweeted this (as I was cresting that hill nearing the green circle again, this time from the other direction):
Game tiiiiime— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 7, 2021
Timestamp there says 6:05, so the game had just started. I slowly make my way up to that other intersection and turn right. I turn right to head towards Zone C, enter at that little ramp there, prepare my parking pass in my Apple Wallet, and... there's no one scanning parking passes. Pretty much anyone could have just pulled in there and parked for free in the lot closest to the arena.
Oh, and I forgot one part. Go back to where I entered the frame (blue line) on the left. See that first crosswalk? I was stopped there for a long time. The reason? The crossing guard was scared to death.
She had the "direct the airplane to the gate" flashlights and she was standing in the middle of the road letting dozens of people cross. There's this steady stream of people coming from parking lots on either side of the baseball field, so I get that this is quite the bottleneck moment. People have to get into the game.
She lets probably 75 people cross and then goes to stop the people on the curb (so that the cars backed up quite literally one mile behind me can enter the various parking lots). But she's just a student who nabbed a crossing guard job for some extra pizza money, and she just doesn't have the heart to tell anyone they can't cross. So even though she has walked from the middle of the road to the curb, none of the cars can go (either lane) because she's too scared to say "hold please" and there's a nonstop stream of fans in the crosswalk. She's trying to get someone/anyone to stop with her tarmac flashlights but there's just no stopping the steady stream of people.
I felt for her. She needed one good Fezzik yell to get people to stop but she just didn't have it in her. Maybe 50 more people walked right past her as she prayed for an opening in the crowd so that the cars would just go.
Finally, there was a break in the stream of people. She held up her flashlights. And an older couple stopped, with everyone else stopping behind them. And I could finally cross the crosswalk.
Anyway, so now I've parked without showing anyone my parking pass. I pull up the email again to see where I get my media pass. Northwest Gate. I walk towards what is either the northeast or northwest gate. It's the northeast gate. I need to go another quarter of the way around the arena to get to my entrance. I head that way and I'm walking... down... hill.
I get to the bottom of the hill and find a parking lot and a bunch of mechanical equipment. I need to get to the other side of the equipment, but the one set of stairs goes up to a door halfway up this wall.
Here's what I saw:
The gate where I need to go is just on the other side of that yellow CAT generator (or whatever) at the top of the hill, but I have no idea how to get there. A security guard in that red truck rolls down his window and says "where are you trying to go?"
I told him I was looking for the northwest gate. He told me it was at the top of that hill, but there's no access from this side. I'm going to have to walk around the entire arena. Again, I swear to you, I am not trying to create situations like this. I'm just trying to get inside to cover a basketball game. But now I have to circle the entire arena.
Let's go back to my Family Circus map again.
So now I'm way up at the very top. And I need to go right where the red line ends. But to do that I have to walk around the entire building. Which I do. It was not warm.
I finally get to the right entrance and walk into the foyer (and the warmth). I look for the window where I am picking up my media credential and... there's a line. There's maybe eight minutes left in the first half at this point, but there's a line.
I go to the entrance and ask a security guard if that line is where the media passes can be picked up or if that's for tickets. He said that's the window for media passes. I get back in line. Nothing is happening.
(Again - I swear I'm not making any of this up. After my adventure at Iowa 16 days ago where the email said to pick up credentials at the window by Gate I (all the way on the other side of the stadium from where we were actually supposed to be), I've now walked all the way around the basketball arena and am standing in line at 6:25 pm for a game the started at 6:00.)
After several more minutes standing there and the line not moving - I think the woman in the ticket window had called for her manager or something - the security guard comes back. "I can tag your bag - at least you won't have to do that once you get your credential". He searches my bag and puts a tag on it. I get back in line again. Still nothing. Just standing there in this line:
I can totally understand why only one window is open. The game started a half-hour ago. Who is going to be walking up 30 minutes after the game started? Me.
The security guard sees me still standing there and springs into action. He gets someone to open another one of the windows and hand me the envelope with my credential. Finally, I'm in.
I ask that same security guard where to go (never covered a game at Carver Hawkeye before - I've only attended). He checks my section and row on the credential and tells me to walk down the aisle right in front of me.
I go over to the top of that aisle and the game is going on. Maybe 5:00 left in the half? The first thing I saw was Trent hitting a three to cut it to 31-25, and the boxscore says that happened at 5:19 of the first half, so yes, about 5:00 left in the half.
At the under-4:00 timeout I head down the stairs to the media section. 8 seats in the row. I'm seat 8. I look at the section and I'm standing at seat 1. So it's either make seven other people all typing at their computers stand up OR go all the way back up to the top, come down the other aisle, and get to my seat. That's what I do.
I get to my seat and I kid you not - someone has their stuff set up there. A laptop, a charger, a backpack. Their stuff is spread across two seats, so maybe they're in the second seat in which is also vacant? So I sit in my assigned seat like a good little rule follower and move the laptop and backpack to the second seat.
To close that loop, I later learned that it was a photographer who had put her stuff there. She showed up at the start of halftime and looked quite surprised to see me sitting there. I'm always "oh man even though I checked six times did I sit in the wrong seat?" so I held up the row and number on my credential and asked if I was in the wrong seat. "No, I just didn't know there were assigned seats", she said. (Internally I had this "every pressbox on earth has assigned sea... you know what? It doesn't matter" conversation.)
She asked if I could move out of the way so she could gather her things. So I stood in the aisle for a bit, she grabbed her stuff, and then I sat back down. Seems like I shouldn't feel bad for making someone move out of my assigned seat but there I was, feeling bad for making someone move out of my assigned seat.
Let me check the timestamp when I was finally seated. The scenario I just described happened at halftime, but I was seated and working before that. According to this tweet, it was at 6:40 pm when I finally sat down. I left the car at something like 6:08 and didn't get to my seat for 32 minutes.
I did see the score a couple times, though. If you've ever been to Carver Hawkeye, you walk in at the top and then everything is below ground. And with all the windows on the outside, you can see some of the scoreboards at the top of the arena through the windows. While circling the entire arena I think I saw 20-10 Illinois and then something like 22-20. So we must have made a burst and then they came clawing back. By the time Trent hit that three it was 31-25 Iowa so it must have been one long Hawkeye surge.
The second half I was completely settled in. And, to be honest, with all of the craziness just trying to get to my seat, I was really distracted from all the stuff I wrote about last night (what it feels like to watch your team get beat on the road, especially at Iowa). It was like I forgot to get angry. Jordan Bohannon wasn't raining threes as I had predicted (he wasn't really doing much of anything), and Kofi started grabbing every single rebound, and I lost track of all the "it's so hard to sit there surrounded by Iowa fans cheering" I had been so worried about.
Until Iowa started making their comeback, that is. I guess this is the part where I'm going to actually talk about the game.
Iowa cuts it from 15 to 3 and I'm dying inside. The crowd is alive. I want to scream "somebody make a play" but I can't make a sound where I'm seated.
And then, for whatever reason, Fran decides to put in Josh Ogundele. And to me, that's where the game turned. They had been doing all of this full court pressure and, with no Belo, it was getting to us. Athletes like the Murrays and Perkins were spinning the game around. And now Fran is going for what... Hack-A-Kofi?
Ogundele is the Hack-A-Kofi guy. Here's something I noted during (or maybe just after?) the Iowa-Illinois game in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament back in March:
So that possession with 30 seconds left was an actual Hack-A-Kofi scenario. Looked it up. Josh Ogundele has played 16 minutes this season for Iowa, less than Zach Griffith for Illinois. They put him in and his job was to foul Kofi if he touched the ball (to force the one-&-one).— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) March 13, 2021
This wasn't a Hack-A-Kofi moment (I believe that Iowa was up to nine fouls at that moment, so they weren't going to force Kofi into a one-and-one situation), but they did put Ogundele in there simply to play defense on Kofi. It seemed really odd to me at the time. The smaller lineup had gotten them back into the game, but then they flipped to "keep Kofi from scoring and we can win this".
It worked initially, I guess. Ogundele blocked Kofi and the Illini had to inbounds with maybe four seconds on the shot clock. There was a bust, and Jacob Grandison had a wide open jumper to push the lead back to five. Iowa took Ogundele back out for their offensive set, Da'Monte fouled Keegan Murray, he hit both free throws, and the lead was back to three. They're going to press again, I'm nervous as all get out, and Fran... puts Ogundele back in? Ogundele only played 2 minutes all night - at the end of the first half (to possibly Hack-A-Kofi) and at the end of the second half in the situations I'm describing.
But I really didn't understand Iowa going back to him there. Pressing with Ogundele on the floor? That's just a four man press then? And he's not going to close out on any shooters or really do much of anything besides "guard Kofi". If they weren't pressing, sure, put a defender on Kofi and make us try to push it back to five another way. But press with Ogundele?
Here's what happened:
We break the press, Ogundele is FIRMLY planted in the lane refusing to leave Kofi, so when it's swung to Plummer on the wing, well, no closeout is coming because Ogundele is there to never leave Kofi's side. Plummer has the easiest look he'll get all season and he effectively ends the game with that three.
Great pass from Da'Monte for his sixth assist of the game, by the way. I'm also giving half an assist to Kofi for being such a huge presence that the other coach sent in a guy just to guard him and no one else. And the other half assist goes to Fran McCaffery for playing Josh Ogundele there.
After that three splashed, followed quickly by one of the McCaffery's missing a shot, Plummer grabbing the rebound, getting fouled, and hitting two free throws, I started to go a little crazy inside. The game was effectively over at that point, and the realization that we just beat Iowa on the road started to hit me in waves. 2-0 Big Ten start (which should - emphasis on "should" - move to 5-0 after Minnesota, Maryland, and Nebraska). Four straight ever since Iowa did this:
Update: Illini now 4-0 vs. Iowa since this moment. https://t.co/lYtBGGNrZL— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 7, 2021
Once the Iowa fans got up to leave with :38 remaining, I grabbed my phone and took a video. And while I was filming, the Illini fans in attendance started an I-L-L I-N-I chant:
Iowa fans headed for the exits with 38 seconds left as the Illini fans in attendance showered them with an I-L-L I-N-I cheer. pic.twitter.com/UjOBUiLI37— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 7, 2021
There's not much better than that.
Carmen was here tonight, so he showed up at my press row seat maybe five minutes after the game ended (after all the press had cleared out to go to the press conference). He has zero press row decorum, so when Jake Grandison emerged from the tunnel to go talk to some family members, Carmen gave him the "attaboy Jake - ROAD KILL" shout. No yelling from press row, Carmen.
(It was fine. Everyone else was gone.)
After that we headed out. I got a text from a friend saying "you should record a From The Stands tonight", so I did. It's an absolute disaster of an FTS - at one point, when we're in the car, I drop the phone down by my feet and it keeps recording for 10 more minutes - but if disaster is your cup of tea, here you go:
I cut that off when we arrived at the bar. We went inside, sat at the bar, ordered some drinks, and immediately saw Ayo toss a lob to someone in the Bulls game. I'm not sure how you can end a night any better.
One more thing. The bartender? An Iowa student but an Illini fan. He read the name on my credit card and said "hey, I follow you on Twitter!". We talked about what he was missing by attending Iowa during this awakening of Illini basketball. His friend is on the Krush board and tells him of the rebirth of Illinois basketball. Our bartender, uh, has some regrets.
But I don't. Go Illini.