Day #7: Valpo stands tall in Horizon league showdown

While every aspect of this road trip has been an incredible experience in its own way, even the stressful parts, the seventh day stands apart from the rest.

It started off slightly challenging, as I had yet another 5 am flight to catch after staying up late and watching the second exciting upset in as many nights. I managed to grab a few hours of precious sleep but by the time I boarded my flight to Chicago, I was already dragging.  I was lucky to fly into O’Hare when I did, as there were several hundred miserable people waiting to check in as I was walking out.

From the airport, I caught a bus to a suburb of Chicago called Highland where a good media friend of mine picked me up and hosted me for the day/night. Not only was it nice to be in good company, it was nice not to feel completely homeless for a day.

After crashing out for a few hours at said friend’s house, we proceeded to run a few errands, including renting a car for later that night, before heading up to Valparaiso to check out the campus before the game.

First, we stopped an a delicious establishment, the Industrial Revolution Eatery and Grille, and fueled up before the game.

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My friend took me on a tour of the campus, which was actually pretty neat given that it is a small school. We stopped for Starbucks then headed over to the Athletics-Recreation Center.

We were early, which afforded us the opportunity to chat with some of the Valpo coaches before the game, including an old friend of mine and former Stanford standout, Matt Lottich.

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I was also able to meet assistant coach Luke Gore and former head coach and Valpo legend Homer Drew himself.

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I can’t impress upon you guys enough the kindness that I experienced from every member of the Valparaiso community. As a female in this industry, sometimes there is a feeling of being unwelcome or out of place, even if it is not intended. I’m not complaining mind you, I know it comes with the territory, but everyone at Valpo made me feel right at home – from the athletic director Mark LaBarbera, to the awesome, hardworking SID Aaron Leavitt to the other friendly members of the media (I’m looking at your Paul Oren). Even the woman at the concession stand, who gave me a free coffee when I realized I didn’t have any cash. I also must have looked like I really needed it.

Also, I would like to give a special shout out to the young woman who was ushering our section – she is a senior at the university, working towards a career in sports and was a very helpful source for all things basketball. It makes me happy to see young women pursuing jobs in this industry and gives me hope for the future of females in sports writing and broadcasting.

The ARC itself was awesome – sure it’s on the small side and a little outdated but there isn’t a bad seat in the place and the fans are dedicated. The student section was my favorite. It was superhero night and the students fully embraced the theme.

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Not pictured: The men’s swim team, who stripped off their warm ups to reveal nothing but lime-green speedos underneath. Classic.

The game was more lopsided than I thought it would be, particularly the first half. Oakland star Kay Felder was a quiet 2-7 from the field and Max Hooper, the 3-point maestro, only contributed three points in the form of free throws.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders shot 58.3 percent in the first half from the field and forced the Grizzlies to commit nine turnovers. Valpo guard Shane Hammink lead the team with 11 first-half points while freshman forward Alec Peters grabbed seven of the team’s 19 first-half rebounds. Valpo finished the first half with a comfortable 46-38 lead.

The second half was a different story. Oakland managed to catch all the way back up and create quite an exciting finish. Luckily, the Crusaders sunk some clutch free throws to hold on for the 86-84 victory.

Valpo sophomore forward David Skara went down with an ankle injury early on, causing the Crusaders to utilize more of their bench. Skara, who struggled with an injury to his other ankle earlier in the year, did not return and head coach Bryce Drew did not know how serious the injury was when he addressed the media after the game.

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe was candid in his post game address, clearly frustrated that he could not properly motivate his team.  He called the game “a microcosm of their season” and said ” we were really bad in the execution of our offense, we fumbled the ball around and I really didn’t like the way they game was called.”

After the game, several of us went to Tomato Bar, a local pizzeria where I devoured quite possibly the best pizza I have ever eaten – it was dubbed the “all the cheese” pizza by my dinning mates.

The small corner of Indiana that is Valparaiso now owns the best day title on my college basketball road trip. The people, the environment, the passion for basketball and the history surrounding the school all made for an especially unique stop on my tour.

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My 4:30 am wake up call came too soon this morning but at least the 5-hour drive to Louisville was uneventful and easy.

Next up: Louisville vs. Duke at the KFC Yum! Center.

See you on the other side.

#EVBFullCourtPress

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