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Home, sweet home: Lobos hoops attendance 16th in nation

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Fans reach to get high fives from Lobo men's basketball players following their win in February over Utah State. The UNM men drew an average of 15,212 fans per home game in 2013-14. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Fans reach to get high fives from Lobo men’s basketball players following their win in February over Utah State. The UNM men drew an average of 15,212 fans per home game in 2013-14. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — boxattendFor years, Lobo basketball coaches have steadfastly proclaimed it is the University of New Mexico’s fans that make it one of the top programs in the country.

And despite the men’s team having squandered numerous golden opportunities to advance through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, at least the Lobo fans can lay claim to being in the Sweet 16.

For the fourth consecutive season, the average home attendance for Lobo men’s basketball games in the Pit ranked 16th highest in the nation according to NCAA final attendance figures released earlier this month.

UNM averaged 15,212 fans per home game this past season, which is 98.7 percent capacity. That’s the highest average home attendance in more than a decade in the Pit, and dating to years before a $60 million renovation project capped seating capacity at 15,411.

“Our fan base is meaningful, and our facilities are second to none,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said. “… I hope they continue to come next (season), because we’re going to need them.”

It is the 48th consecutive season UNM has ranked in the top 25 nationally in average home attendance, according to figures reported to the NCAA.

The 15,212 average is tops in the Mountain West, which for the sixth consecutive season had at least three teams finish in the top 30 in average home attendance. UNLV, despite a drop in attendance this past season of more than 2,000 fans per game, still checked in at No. 22 in the country (13,125). San Diego State’s back-to-back complete seasons of capacity crowds (12,414) had the Aztecs ranked No. 27.

The league’s overall average home attendance of 7,730 ranked No. 7.

And you don’t think Utah State enjoyed its move from the Western Athletic Conference this past season? Despite one of their worst seasons in recent memory (18-11 overall, 7-11 MWC), the Aggies’ average home attendance in their first Mountain West season resulted in the nation’s sixth-best increase, improving by 1,893 fans per game in the Dee Glen Spectrum (7,937 in 2012-13; 9,829 in 2013-14). Four of Utah State’s five home crowds of 10,000 or more were for league opponents.

“I think the unique thing about this league, and it’s got to start getting recognized, is the venues we play in,” Neal said. “We’ve got some great venues. Unlike some (other) conferences out West and some in the Midwest, our venues top to bottom are as good as it gets.”

Fans were lining up early last October to get into the Lobo Howl, the unofficial start to UNM basketball’s preseason. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Fans were lining up early last October to get into the Lobo Howl, the unofficial start to UNM basketball’s preseason. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Mountain West was one of five leagues to have at least three programs rank in the top 30: Big Ten (8), Atlantic Coast (5), Big 12 (4), Mountain West (3) and Southeastern (3). The Pac-12 (Arizona, No. 19) and West Coast Conference (BYU, No. 11) each had one in the top 30.

The New Mexico State Aggies ranked 89th in the country this past season with an average home attendance in the Pan American Center of 5,984. That is down from 6,213 the previous year.

Syracuse led men’s basketball with an average home attendance of 26,253.

The UNM women’s program, while having its average home attendance drop for the third consecutive season, still ranked No. 12 at 5,914.

LOBO LINKS: Geoff Grammer’s blog | Schedule/Results | Roster

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