Monday, November 13, 2017

Illinois State Redbirds 43 at Oakland Golden Grizzlies 64 (NCAA Women's Basketball) - November 11, 2017

My Detroit weekend to re-enter Club 123 was planned a few months ago, with the Red Wings playing Saturday night and the Pistons (and Lions) Sunday. That meant I still had an opening on Saturday afternoon in which to attend a game. Central Michigan had a basketball game at 2:00 in Kalamazoo, but it is two hours from Detroit, just a bit too far to guarantee being back in time for the Red Wings puck drop at 7, particularly given the parking difficulties around the new downtown arena. Similarly, the Flint Firebirds of the OHL had a game at 3, but it is an hour away. If either of these games had been scheduled one hour earlier, it might have been worth trying, but I decided to look for events closer to town. Eventually I came across the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, whose women's hoops team had a 1:00 game at the Athletics Center O'Rena in Rochester, right next to Auburn Hills. Fellow sports traveler Andrew had joined me for this trip, so after meeting him at the airport and picking up the rental car, we drove about 45 minutes north to the campus of Oakland University.

After a quick stop at Buddy's Pizza to enjoy a couple of square slices, we headed over to the O'Rena. Parking is free on campus and the women are not that popular, even for their home opener (announced attendance was 801), so there was no traffic or difficulty finding a spot in lot P26. We walked in a few minutes before tip, paying $5 for general admission tickets. The doors at the main entrance are quite impressive, with a growling grizzly asking you to Wear the Bear (surprisingly not Fear the Bear - I guess rhyming and team support are more important than frightening opponents).

The O'Rena opened in 1998 to coincide with the athletics department transitioning to Division I. The team used to be known as the Pioneers before adopting their current nickname in 1997 as part of the process. They were initially in the Mid-Continent Conference (better than the Incontinent Conference), which was thankfully renamed the Summit League, before they moved to the Horizon League for the 2013 season. There are a couple of small blurbs describing this history in the Hall of Honor that is just outside the main entrance to the gym. Next to the entrance is a table where you can pick up a roster list and schedules.

A few famous athletes played here, including Keith Benson, who was drafted by Atlanta in the second round in 2011 and suited up for Golden State (coincidentally based in a different Oakland) for 3 games, playing a total of 9 minutes. He is now playing overseas in Greece. Benson, along with his fellow pros, are honoured both in a hallway montage and with banners above the entrance.

The O'Rena is famous for its blacktop playing surface that debuted in 2015, and it certainly looks odd at first glance. Given that the team in the Golden Grizzlies, I am not sure why the floor is black (well, a dark brown really), but it is unique.

A large walkway is above the seating bowl and you can make your way around.  Sit behind the benches if you want to get on TV. If you are hungry, a small concession stand sits at one corner offering very basic fare such as hot dogs for $3. Buddy's is the better bet.

The band is in one corner just inside the entrance, and the cheerleaders right in front of them. This might be the student section, but there are not many fans of the women's team so it was rather empty. And given the game we saw, that is quite understandable.

The visitors were the Illinois State Redbirds in keeping with the colourful theme (and even more fitting, one of their top players is Hannah Green). Turnovers were the name of the game with the teams combining for 43 giveaways on the afternoon, more than one per minute. Illinois State had 27 of those, and although they were only down 8 after three quarters, that sort of ball management isn't going to win you many games. Oakland dominated the final frame 22-9 and won 64-43 in a game that had more turnovers than baskets (35). Simone Goods of Illinois State led all scorers with 22, more than half her team's points. It wasn't pretty, but it counts as a venue for me, and we stayed until the bitter end.

Afterward, we drove downtown and found a free parking spot just two blocks from Little Caesars Arena, where the car remained for the entire weekend. Having seen the traffic later that night for the Red Wings, it was a good thing we opted to remain local for our afternoon game. More on the Red Wings new digs in the next post.


The women's team has two NCAA appearances in 2006 and 2011, losing in the first round both times. The men's team is coached by Greg Kampe, who is the 3rd-longest tenured coach in NCAA hoops, now in his 33rd season at Oakland, behind only Jim Boeheim (41) and Coach K (37).

Oakland has a player named Cierra Bond, who was referred to as Bond, Cierra Bond when initially introduced and after every basket she made.

On the flight in, I had a great view of downtown and could see 5 different sports venues: The 3 in the lower left quadrant are pretty obvious, while Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Arena (site of the Nancy Kerrigan attack in 1994) are in the middle of the shot next to the river, on either side of the convention center. Click on the picture for a better view.




  1. Hey Sean,

    Just want to say I always enjoy your trip reports. Always motivates me to go out there and see more sport than I see already. That court though, so unique. Crazy!

    1. Thanks Jub! Glad you are enjoying things. Great site you are keeping up as well. Maybe we will meet up on the road sometime.