Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Lobo fans apparently love a family get-together for the holidays.
The University of New Mexico over Tuesday and Wednesday sold about 1,000 tickets and has eclipsed 11,000 total accounted for – including all 40 suites being sold – for Sunday’s father-son matchup in the Pit between the Rick Pitino-coached Iona Gaels and the Richard Pitino-coached New Mexico Lobos.
It is already guaranteed to be the largest attended game of this season in the 15,411-seat arena. The Nov. 19 rivalry game with New Mexico State had more than 15,000 tickets sold and was on pace to likely be sold out, but was canceled hours before it was to be played.
Deputy Athletic Director David Williams said Wednesday that UNM is working on trying to mitigate the issues faced last weekend when a season-high announced attendance of 10,049 fans at the UT-San Antonio game last Saturday struggled to get into the arena in a timely fashion due to new security measures, including metal detectors at the entrances.
For Sunday, UNM is opening gates 90 minutes prior to tip-off of the 4:30 p.m. game rather than the usual 60 minutes, Williams said. UNM is also exploring possible ways to motivate fans to arrive to the Pit early, possibly through some sort of concessions discount or something similar.
Most notable, however, is the university will open up new lines for entry. While UNM could not secure – through purchase of loan – additional metal detectors for Sunday, it did buy new metal detecting “wands.” Rather than all fans walking through two metal detectors located at each of the four main entrances, as was the case last weekend, some lines will now have fans walk through the metal detectors, and others will have fans be checked by an employee using a wand.
The problem is a good one to have. Attendance has been dipping for several years while the Lobos are on the longest postseason drought since the Pit opened more than a half century ago. Nevertheless, it is still a problem, and one UNM acknowledged with an apology over the public address system during the USTA game. It was the second men’s basketball game with the metal detector entrances in place, but first with the type of crowd that simply overloaded their capabilities. The other was Dec. 6 – a Tuesday night game – against Division-II Western New Mexico.
As for Sunday, there is excitement of a visit from a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino bringing his 7-2 Gaels here on a “Pit” stop on their way to Hawaii, where they compete in a tournament next week.
What seems to be helping the rapid ticket sales this week is the buzz around the 10-0 home team. Monday, the Lobos beat San Francisco in a neutral court game in Las Vegas, Nevada, and remains one of only seven unbeaten Division I teams (of 363 in the country). Only seven Lobo squads ever have started 10-0 in the program’s 119 seasons.