THE PIT, UNIVERSITY & CESAR CHAVEZ SE--The Lobo women's basketball team fought its way back into the top 25 in the AP poll yesterday. The ESPN/USA Today poll comes out later today shows the Lobos in 27th. This is pretty exciting. I have had season tickets for Lobo basketball for decades...going back to the Stormin' Norman Ellenberger years. Oh, at some point (I believe it was in the brief tenure of coach Fran Frachilla) I switched my season tickets to the Lobo Women. What a lucky day that was!

The Coach
It was Don Flanagan's first year as Lobo coach. He had been passed over the first time he applied to coach the Lobos supposedly because he had no college coaching experience. The second time he applied he made it...much to the delight of most of Albuquerque. After all, in 16 years of coaching the Eldorado HS girl's team he compiled a jaw-dropping record of 401-13. His teams averaged less than one loss per year and had won the state championship 11 times. UNM decided to take a chance and hired him.

The Game
But MaryAnn and I don't go to the Lobo games to see the coach. We love the women's game. The skill and excitement are the same for both the men and the women, but the proportionality of player to court seems better watching the Lobo Women. You could say they are a little slower and a little smaller, but that is not exactly what it feels like. Instead it seems that the court is bigger, that the floor isn't over-crowded with 10 giant-sized Central Avenue air dancers, and that the basket remains above the heads of the players even when they jump.

The fact that there is more space in the open court leads to a different kind of game: more passing, more teamwork on defense, more strategy, less one-on-one. And character counts. When players can't leap over the basket and drop the ball in, when everything just seems a little bit harder, tough-mindedness and smart play count even more.

The Players

You'll love em. But like all teams, the more games you see the more you appreciate them as individuals. I am amazed at the growth of players over the course of four years. Take post Angela Hartill, for instance. To see her develop her strength and skill inside and then step out and sink a 3-pointer is something that is even more beautiful when looked at over her whole career. But there are a dozen stories out there, one for each player...and they are all fascinating.

What more, unlike many programs, players who have already graduated continue to show up at the Pit for the games. Last week we saw Lindsey, Dionne, and Judy from past years. And the great Jordan Adams has returned to be Director of Basketball Operations. (I'm not sure what that is, but she does get a seat on the bench).

The Pit
The Pit is such a legend. It is still listed in the top 10 of America's sports venues. And it used to be even better. Over the years rows of premier seating have been added to the west side of the arena at floor level. That does take away some of the home court advantage...especially since they are half empty much of the time. But still, The Pit is Albuquerque's true melting pot. Everyone is there. The women are attracting about 8000 per game, filling up more than half of the main floor seats. Or benches, rather.

The Promenade
The half-time promenade is a Pit tradition. It has replaced walking past the Alvarado Hotel on Sunday afternoons. Certainly most of the crowd seems to walk around the concourse. There is no traditional direction. Clockwise or counter-clockwise will do. One thing is certain, you will see about 4000 people in one lap around the Pit. There are people from all walks of life and from all parts of the city. You can buy food or drink, but the prices seem a little high to me.

The Ride Home

After the game comes the post-game show on the radio. Almost all the women's games are on 610AM, THE Sports Animal. I absolutely love listening to the show while driving home. Sometimes I don't think I live far enough away.

This Year Could Be Special
Here's the deal about why I'm so excited about being in the Top 25: it will give us a better seed in the NCAA tournament. I am already convinced we will get in. Now I'm after a good seed. Why? Because the first two rounds of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament are going to be played here in the Pit. In the past, the Lobos have played at home in the first round and I think it can happen again.

Think about it. The Lobos are 13-0 in the Pit this year. A decent seed and we could make it out of the first two rounds. That means we would be in the Sweet Sixteen! Wow. And tickets for the NCAA tournament are on sale right now. The UNM ticket office advises to come by their office at the Pit so they can show exactly what seats are available.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, we still have to win most of our conference games or the post-season conference tournament. And that isn't until March. But the real excitement starts next Saturday against 12-2 BYU in Provo, Utah. Game time is 7:00 on 610AM with Joe Berens and Nicki Heckroth mikeside. So power up that kitchen Zenith, preheat the oven, and start making cookies. It just might be the most rousing batch of cookies you've ever made.

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Comment by Adelita on January 13, 2009 at 9:29am
Johnny, you speak my language! I love, love, love college basketball - Lobo basketball, that is. And to see a game in The famous Pit, well, there's just nothing like it! Thanks for this wonderful post and I'll be cheering the women on!
Comment by slamwagon on January 13, 2009 at 10:28am
So excited about the price of Lady Lobo season tickets! Not bad.
Comment by Masshole in Fringecrest on January 13, 2009 at 10:31am
$3 for a pickle is an outrage. Other than that, though the experience can't be beat. Especially for the dad of two daughters.
Comment by jeff on January 13, 2009 at 10:46am
i love that concession sign and the rampant public displays of mis-spelling(s) here...
"pretzels", instead of "pretzel",
"pickles", instead of "pickle",
"cracker jacks" instead of "cracker jack",
and "extra cheese" floating unattached on the menu and presumably for the pickles directly above, or perhaps for the nachos one up and to the left, the only menu item apparently served with cheese in the first place?
Comment by slamwagon on January 13, 2009 at 11:35am
Yes... I would like extra cheese on that pickles. Thanks.
Comment by Masshole in Fringecrest on January 13, 2009 at 12:07pm
Not to mention the "Chile" in "Green Chili Stew" is wrong. Should be a crime. I'm OK with "Cracker Jacks" as a sort of assumed plurality all the time. I mean the song says, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack", but do we really call it cracker jack in everyday parlance? I don't. Maybe it's just me. To wit:"Yes, I would like extra cheese on my Cracker Jack". I don't think so.
Comment by jeff on January 13, 2009 at 12:20pm
oh yeah - good catch on the chili.
i'll be honest - i don't use the term cracker jack everyday. not nearly close.

but i'll happily complicate this by saying that their extra cheese may be a blend, so it may be more accurate to say "Yes, I would like extra cheeses on my Cracker Jacks"
Comment by shotsie on January 13, 2009 at 4:52pm
Some of those concession stands are staffed by volunteer organizations - my son and I worked some games 4 years ago (so he and his friends could skip out during half-time and watch the game - I stayed to help sell/clean). Ask the workers and find a stand that has volunteers - they get some of the proceeds. That 3 dollar pickle may help some local charity. Go Lobos (hombres y mujeres )!!!!!
Comment by LP on January 13, 2009 at 11:16pm
You mean that 3 dollar pickles may help some local charity.
Comment by Masshole in Fringecrest on January 14, 2009 at 8:36am
re: the charitable organizations. I always ask them who they are with, that way if it is an organization I have no interest in supporting, I can go find another one to support. Ditto the Isotopes concession stands (and I happen to know they make a good couple of grand every game). Man, you should have seen the look on the faces of the lady with the "Christian Pro-Life Organization" (Their words, not mine and said with a thick Tejas drawl) when I left my two frothy filled brewhappenings on the counter and told her I'd find another booth to support.

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