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The Indy 2,000: Get your kicks on the way to Indiana to watch the Zags in the Final Four

March 30, 2021 Updated Tue., March 30, 2021 at 10 p.m.

With Gonzaga cutting the nets Tuesday night, it’s going to take some burning rubber for those hoping to road trip to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Final Four on Saturday.

The venue for the national semifinal is 1,936 miles from McCarthey Athletic Center on the campus of Gonzaga University, and while options for travel are limited due to the pandemic and the quick turnaround for this weekend’s games, getting there may be the easier part.

The NCAA is no longer selling public tickets to the games Saturday and Monday evening, where capacity will be limited to 22% in the stadium due to COVID-19 precautions.

The cheapest tickets on secondary market websites for the Final Four games all approached $1,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to StubHub, TicketMaster and TicketIQ.

If you’re looking to fly out of Spokane International Airport to Indy, the cheapest options will mostly require travelers to get up early Wednesday to take advantage of midweek, limited economy rates. Still, it’s likely to cost at least $400 for a one-way ticket, regardless of which of the six airlines that service Indianapolis International you choose, and could reach well into the four figures.

Getting to Indianapolis from Spokane by train would require the hoops enthusiast to board at the intermodal center by 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

That leaves the open road, and there are three routes Zag fans headed eastbound and down could choose to reach Indianapolis for Saturday’s tipoff. Each route will take at least 29 hours to drive and offers its own unique experiences, depending on what you’re looking for.

The South Dakota route

The shortest route by distance will have drivers staying on Interstate 90 at Billings all the way through South Dakota.

One of the attractive stops on this drive is currently closed due to raging wildfires in the Black Hills. The Mount Rushmore National Monument shuttered Tuesday as crews battle wildfires fueled by heavy winds. Four hundred homes in the area have been evacuated, and some smaller grass fires have forced closures of the interstate in central South Dakota.

If you make it past the wind-driven fires, travelers can visit the South Dakota Hall of Fame on the banks of the Missouri River near Chamberlain. There, you can read about inductee Carl Hoy, the cigar-chomping head coach of the University of South Dakota who led the Coyotes to victory against top-ranked Bradley University in the 1947-1948 season.

A sports columnist for the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Hod Nielsen, recalled in a 1999 piece that Hoy, known as “Rube,” was sweeping the floor one day when a visitor asked if he’d left coaching.

“No. But since the janitor always helps me coach, I thought that I should help him sweep,” Nielsen recalled Hoy saying.

The route also will take travelers through Sioux Falls, hometown of Jon Sundvold, the shooting guard taken by the Seattle SuperSonics as the 16th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, a class that also included Clyde Drexler, Manute Bol and a guard named Craig Ehlo, who’d just led the Washington State Cougars to the NCAA Tournament the year prior.

From Sioux City, Iowa, travelers will take Highway 20 through North Iowa, where gas prices are about 12 cents lower than South Dakota and 55 cents lower on average than in Washington, according to the most recent AAA report. Webster City, just west of Interstate 35, is the home town of John Gregory. He was head coach of the Arkansas Twisters, who fell in the 2006 Arena League 2 playoffs to the eventual league champions, the Spokane Shock.

The final approach to Indianapolis on this route goes through Illinois, crossing the Illinois River at Peoria. That’s the hometown of Ray Giacoletti, who coached the Eastern Washington University Eagles in their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003. The Eags lost to Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State University Cowboys, and Giacoletti left for the University of Utah the next year.

Giacoletti’s debut as the Eags coach? A 74-65 loss to Gonzaga in November 2000.

Heading south through Omaha

A slightly longer route will take diehard Zag roadtrippers south along the Nebraska/Iowa border once they’ve reached Sioux City, on a journey that will bring them within striking distance of two recent events in Gonzaga’s storied basketball history.

Omaha is home to Creighton University, which the Zags defeated Sunday to reach the Elite Eight. It’s also the hometown of Hunter Sallis, the blue-chip point guard out of Millard North High School who committed to Gonzaga earlier in the month.

Millard North is in West Omaha and would require a bit of a jump off Interstate 29 for a visit. Continuing south on I-29, travelers would turn east at St. Joseph, Missouri, where the outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed in April 1882. After crossing the Show Me State, road trippers will cross the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of Mark Twain.

Those taking this route would travel through Springfield, Illinois, the state capital. But it may be unwise to refuel there. Illinois’ average gas prices stood at an average of $3.05/gallon this week, AAA reported, well above the $2.65 charged in Missouri and $2.74 in Indiana.

The great north

Still another option calls for drivers to head north at Billings on Interstate 94, missing the fires and blustery winds of South Dakota and instead offering passage through the heart of the plains of North Dakota.

All of the Great Northern plains are expected to run a little colder than average this week, as the cold front that brought devastating winds Sunday night to Spokane makes its way across the country, according to the National Weather Service. But the trip should be dry.

The halfway point of this drive would be roughly around Bismarck, North Dakota, the state’s capital. The next day would take travelers through the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, hometown of standout guard Jalen Suggs.

Suggs’ alma mater, Minnehaha Academy, is just a short jaunt off Interstate 94, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Travelers still would have nine hours to go to reach downtown Indianapolis, traveling through Wisconsin and the South Side of Chicago before crossing the Indiana border.

That route would take travelers through West Lafayette, Indiana, home of the Purdue Boilermakers. The Bulldogs haven’t played Purdue since the 2000 NCAA Tournament, Mark Few’s first as head coach. The Boilermakers beat the 10th-seeded Zags in the Sweet 16.

Current COVID-19 restrictions

Marion County, Indiana, has seen 129 positive cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents as of Friday, according to the Marion County Public Health Department. That’s lower than Spokane County’s 169 per 100,000 residents, as reported Tuesday by the Spokane Regional Health District.

By order of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a mask requirement will remain in place indoors and in public places through the end of the NCAA Tournament. But Holcomb has indicated he will lift that statewide order on mask-wearing next week, which would take effect after the national championship game.

Marion County remains in the state’s lowest tier of community transmission as of Wednesday afternoon.

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