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Through thick and thin, Lobo love brings thousands back to ‘Pit West’

From left, Lobo fans Eric Terborg and Lynnae Chavez pose with UNM men’s basketball coach Paul Weir at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., on Wednesday. The photo was taken after Terborg and Chavez got engaged while on a trip to the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament. (Photo courtesy of Lynnae Chavez)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — And still, they came.

Despite a sub-.500 season from their team and a draining several months of up and down performances, not to mention the unfortunate new norm of constant social media negativity for all things Lobo basketball, the Thomas & Mack Center this week once again took on its alter ego of “Pit West.”

The announced crowd of 7,518 fans for the night session of the Mountain West Tournament’s evening session of quarterfinal games was, as it is most seasons, very Lobo heavy.

“Give them credit,” Utah State junior guard and MWC Player of the Year Sam Merrill said Thursday night. “(A) 7 seed, they didn’t have the year they wanted and they still show out and had 3-, 4,000 fans.”

And, unlike most of the past season for the Lobos, who finish with a 14-18 record after losing to Utah State on Thursday night, UNM fans got the effort and energy they wanted to see from their team for back-to-back games this week.

Well, on Wednesday, they at least got it out of one half.

But, oh, what a half it was.

After Wednesday’s huge 51-point second half outburst by the Lobos to beat Wyoming, Mark Lucero called his boss and let her know he needed a few days off, hopped in his and made the roughly 600 mile drive to get to Las Vegas in time for Thursday’s quarterfinal game between the Lobos and Utah State Aggies.

“I’ve loved Lobo basketball since I was a young kid and I’m 37 now,” said Lucero, who has had season tickets more than 15 years.

As he hit the road, he posted on his Twitter account, “YOLO (You only live once) #GoLobos.”

What he found when he got there were thousands of other Lobo fans to party with, which has become the norm for the MWC Tournament each year.

UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said he and the Lobo Club were taking calls from boosters on Wednesday night and Thursday morning asking for tickets as others joined in Lucero’s passion and desire to go watch the Lobos.

For Dale Kennedy and John Ringleb, a couple of recently retired buddies from Albuquerque, and diehard Lobo fans, of course, they certainly logged more than enough miles of their own to show their devotion to the program.

The two not only went to all home games in Albuquerque, but to every road game of the season, culminating this week in Las Vegas.

“I had decided that going to every game was a good bucket list idea,” Kennedy said. “We both really like and believe in coach Weir and frankly expected better results than we got. Both of us are loyal fans, obviously. It would have been more fun with more success but we did manage to have a great time. It was a lot of fun getting familiar with the players and coaches on a more personal level.”

While a passion for college hoops, and of the Lobos in particular, was the common theme for the thousands of cherry and silver clad New Mexicans in the stands on Thursday night, at least two of them took that shared love to a whole other level.

Lobo fans Eric Terborg and Lynnae Chavez this week got engaged on the trip to Las Vegas to watch the Lobos play. She was able to go this year because her job with Albuquerque Public Schools finally lined up with Spring Break falling on the same week as the conference tournament.

Chavez even posted to her Twitter account pictures of their engagement, including a picture with Lobos basketball coach Paul Weir, who congratulated them between film sessions on Wednesday.

“When I met Eric he too loved Lobo hoops and we went to a lot of games together over the years,” Chavez told the Journal.

Terborg apparently had the proposal planned for some time, knowing his bride to be was a hoops head who says March Madness is her favorite time of year.

But Lobo passions run both ways, so his thought about a halftime proposal on Wednesday, when the Lobos were down 38-27 might not have been be the best of plans.

After the Lobos comeback victory, the couple went to Fremont Street, where Terborg popped the question. When they got back to the South Point hotel, same place as where the Lobos team was staying, they saw Weir walk by and got a picture with him.

“We love Weir and all he represents,” Chavez said. “My family always comes to the tourney and (they) were here. My uncle, Lee Quintana, posted on Facebook ‘if the Lobos can’t get a ring, at least my niece did!’”

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