June 5, 2013
By Matt Ensor
Assistant Director of Communications
This is a new summer series called "From the SIDelines", which is written by the Sports Information Directors of the Athletic Communications Office.
It was a phrase I heard time and time again from colleague after colleague...
"Just wait until Vegas."
"You think this is impressive? Just wait until the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas!"
Yet the culmination of an entire regular season with Coach Yvonne Sanchez and the Lobos could not have prepared me for those truths about the "Cherry & Silver" in the Thomas and Mack Center.
My relationship with New Mexico Women's Basketball began in June of 2012 when I joined the athletic communications staff for the Lobos. I had done my research on the rich history and tradition of Lobo Women's Hoops during the interview process. The conference championships, the NCAA Tournament appearances, the Sweet 16 in 2003 and of course the crowds! As fall turned into winter and more than six thousand dedicated fans came to life every game in The Pit, I began to get a sample of that electricity.
UNM's game versus Arizona for "Pack the Pit" in early December was a landmark for me in this experience. Nearly eight thousand fans brought Bob King Court to another level of loud. It was the first game where I thought to myself, "Wow, this is starting to get really, really loud." Being unable to hear anyone in any of the seats next to me confirmed my inner thoughts.
"Just wait until Vegas."
Flash forward three months and thousands of Lobo fans and both basketball teams are ascending onto Sin City. Throughout the quick turnaround between Senior Day and the conference tournament, those four little words found their way into my ears time and time again.
Coach Sanchez and company drew UNLV in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Thursday. It was on that day, March 14, 2013, that I finally got to understand why New Mexico's basketball teams truly relish the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Early in the second half, with New Mexico leading the Rebels, it hit me. The thousands of fans in cherry and silver came to life. I was seated near UNLV's bench, and I began having trouble hearing Head Coach Kathy Olivier who stood right in front of me. She couldn't get guard Danielle Miller's attention. Yelling, waving and stomping the Rebel head coach couldn't get the play call in. Moments later Miller turned to her coach, pointed to her ear, and mouthed the words "I can't hear you." The more they struggled with their communication, the more it fed the New Mexico fans. The arena erupted moments later when the Rebels took a timeout.
That was when I thought to myself, "so this is Lobo Basketball in Las Vegas huh?" A smirk streaked across my face.
UNLV's star guard, Kelli Thompson, noted the UNM crowd after the MW Tournament game.
Yet the volume level of the Lobo faithful was just the crescendo of what the Vegas experience truly encompasses. Las Vegas in mid-March for UNM hoops is more than the deafening support in the Thomas and Mack Center. It's everything that's outside of the game as well. It's the pep rally in the hotel on the way to the game, the buzz around both of New Mexico's basketball teams and its dedicated fan base sharing the same hotel. It's the countless friendly faces and "Go Lobos" yells that echo throughout the Las Vegas strip.
It's a unique blend of everything we love about college basketball and college athletics. It's this magical environment that New Mexico Athletics has 600 miles west of Albuquerque.
It's why I already say, "I can't wait until Las Vegas!"