RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
New Mexico’s famed stomping grounds “The Pit” marked the first stop on my #rushthetrip. Considering I tacked on some 600 miles to the journey with this eastern loop into New Mexico, getting to Albuquerque was quite clearly a priority. And why wouldn’t it be? The Pit has long been one of college basketball’s most-prized stages, and Sports Illustrated even ranked the Lobos’ home floor as the 13th greatest venue of the 20th century – not just in college basketball, mind you, but in all of sports. I think the relatively obscure location also offers an element of intrigue – The Pit possesses that hidden gem feel to it, what with Albuquerque’s relatively isolated post on New Mexico’s high desert and the wide open spaces all around. End summary: this was a place I had to find a way to get to.
Oh but the weather gods didn’t make it easy. A rare New Mexican snowstorm (or so I heard) turned a seven-and-a-half hour drive into something closer to 10, but I arrived at the arena with a few minutes to spare. Emphasis on few. Honestly, though, the later arrival time probably worked out for the best, as walking down the ramp to the floor into an already-buzzing Pit offered a truly imposing first impression. When Deshawn Delaney led the home team down onto the floor (an odd leader, I agree), I couldn’t help but harken back to a John Feinstein observation after he visited there, when he likened the combatants to Roman gladiators, “emerging into a wall of sound.” The snow may have been falling outside and the opponent was a less-than-intimidating Wyoming team, but the combination of arena noise and the emerging-out-of-nowhere, sharply descending gateway to the floor, created an entrance fit for Spartacus.