Whoever had 609 in their pool wins.
That’s how many days it will be officially between the Lobo men’s basketball team’s last game in the Pit – a Feb. 29, 2020, win over Utah State – and the Oct. 30 intrasquad scrimmage the University of New Mexico on Friday announced will be free and open to the public.
It marks the first time Lobo fans have been in the iconic 55-year-old venue to watch college basketball since the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on large gatherings nationwide last year. They carried over in New Mexico to included both UNM and New Mexico State men’s and women’s basketball teams from being able to play their 2020-2021 seasons in the state.
For the roster that mostly hasn’t yet played a game in the Pit or in front of fans in more than a year and a half, it’s as much a needed return toward normalcy – as it will be for many of the fans.
“We got a lot of work to do. We’re not even close to where we need to be to win a game,” first-year coach Richard Pitino said earlier in the week. “We’ve got a decent amount of stuff in offensively. I think they understand what we need to do defensively. But doing it and understanding it are two different things. … We have to take advantage of every single opportunity, individually as well as teamwise.”
The officiated scrimmage will be structured similar to a game with two halves and counts as one of the NCAA’s 30 allowable practices in the 42 days leading up to their Nov. 10 regular-season opener against Florida Atlantic.
Unlike “Howl” events of years past that included 3-point and slam dunk contests, the Oct. 30 scrimmage is the first of a two-day promotion UNM is calling their “Basketball is Back Weekend” that will include the women’s team playing an exhibition game against Division I Western Colorado on Oct. 31. Both events start at 2 p.m. The women’s team will be introduced at halftime of the men’s scrimmage.
MASK UP: Masks will be required to enter the Pit for the foreseeable future.
Citing the still critical levels of hospitalizations in the state due to COVID-19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended a statewide indoor mask mandate at least through Nov. 12.
Masks can be taken off in the Pit while eating or drinking, but fans may have to step up their yelling and howling to be as loud as pre-pandemic Pit crowds.
“Everybody’s dealing with ‘are we gonna have to wear masks coming out of COVID?’ I mean, every indoor sport is dealing with that,” Pitino said earlier in the week when asked about season-ticket renewals already reaching more than 80 percent of pre-pandemic numbers.
“So to have those high numbers of renewals is great. We can go even higher. The one thing I’ll say is we will not take for granted anybody that pays one dollar to come into this building to watch us play. We appreciate that. That means a lot to us. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we need that building and we need our fans. So we’ll do our part on our end.”
SCRIMMAGE: The Lobos will have a closed-door scrimmage Oct. 23 against Northern Arizona University according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, who posted a story including all the Division I scrimmage matchups across the country in the coming weeks.
It is up to the teams whether statistics or news from the scrimmages get made public afterward. Former coach Paul Weir had limited comments after scrimmaging NAU in 2017 and 2018, and there was no public discussion from the team last fall after a scrimmage with Division II Lubbock Christian had some rather embarrassing results for the Lobos, who played several of last season’s “home” games in the West Texas school’s Rip Griffin Center.
The NCAA allows two preseason competitions with other programs – either a closed-to-the-public, controlled scrimmage with another D-I program or an open-to-the-public exhibition game against a non-Division I program.
The Lobos chose to do one of each, including a Nov. 5 exhibition in the Pit against D-II New Mexico Highlands.
Oct. 30: Lobo men intrasquad scrimmage, 2 p.m., the Pit (free)
Oct. 31: Western Colorado at UNM women (exhibition), 2 p.m.