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!
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.
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.
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 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 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.