Stevens: Hottest Ticket In Town Is Going, Going -- Almost Gone

Dec. 11, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Saturday - Dec. 15: 4 p.m.; New Mexico State at Lobos
Saturday -- Dec. 22: 12:30 p.m.; South Dakota State at Lobos
Wednesday - Jan 9: 8 p.m.; UNLV at Lobos

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

If you are looking to purchase an early stocking stuffer that includes The Pit and Steve Alford's No. 17 Lobos, here's a suggestion: Shoot for the Dec. 22 game vs. South Dakota State.

Because if you procrastinate a few minutes more, there won't be any tickets left for New Mexico State or the UNLV Rebels.

There are a lot of ways to promote athletic events - Youth Day, Toys For Tots, Think Pink, Pack The Pit -- but Alford's Lobos have found the perfect way to stuff The Pit and keep the turnstiles humming.

Be undefeated.
Be ranked in the Top 20.

The hottest ticket in Albuquerque has always been Lobo basketball, but tickets for visits by Aggies and Rebels need to be picked up with prongs. They are smokin' hot.

As they should be. The Lobos have soared past San Diego State into the No. 17th spot in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll and are No. 20 in the USA Today coaches' poll.

These Lobos also are 10-0 heading into Saturday's Pit game with those ornery Aggies from Las Cruces, who will come to Albuquerque like a pack of Grinches looking to bah humbug things for their upstate rivals.

You can't blame the Aggies for possessing such evil thoughts. The Lobos are planning a bah humbug day for the Aggies. But this game of geography and bragging rights promises to raise The Pit's roof on Saturday.

There are fewer than 60 seats available for the invasion of Aggies (800 for South Dakota State). There are about 120 seats available for the UNLV Rebels, who would love to open the 2013 Mountain West wars with a knockdown of Lobos.

Here's a quick peek at what the Aggies and the Rebels will bring into The Pit.

New Mexico State: These Cruces Grinches aren't coached by Dr. Seuss. They are coached by Marvelous Marvin Menzies, who brought his Aggies into The Pit last November and escaped to Las Cruces with a convincing 62-53 win over UNM. The Aggies pounded the glass and shot 38 free throws to produce their first Pit win since 2002.

Yep, that hurt.. The Lobos later embarrassed the Aggies 89-69 in Cruces in an amazing turnaround.

The Aggies are already pumping up the Lobos' visit to Las Cruces on Dec. 19 with a "No Empty Seats" campaign. Those Aggie agitators are even giving away a free ticket to the NMSU vs. Lobo women's game (Dec. 18), if you buy a ticket for the Dec. 19 visit by Alford's pack.

Hey, you think maybe there is no love lost in Cruces for Lobos?

But first the Aggies get to take a shot at UNM's unblemished record in The Pit and this turf war promises to be a sellout. .

You know the Aggies want this Pit win - badly. They have been lukewarm so far in 2012-13 and bring a 5-4 mark up North.

NMSU is led in scoring by 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Daniel Mullings with a 13.9 average. Senior forward Tyrone Watson at 6-5 can be nasty inside and sports an 11.4 average. He gets some paint help from 6-8 Bandja Sy with 8.7 points and 6.3 boards per game. Sy had 12 points and a key block down the stretch in NMSU's Pit win last year.

The Aggies have struggled a bit this season despite shooting 45.5 percent from the field and having five players who shoot 50 percent or better. NMSU will come into The Pit needing to do two at least four things in order to hang with the No. 17 Lobos.

They Aggies will need to hammer the boards. The Aggies will need to play mean, mother-bear defense. The Aggies will need to shoot well. The Aggies need to take better care of the ball (159 turnovers to 118 for opponents).

The Aggies did those things last year. UNM shot 19 percent in the second half in the 2011 Pit loss to NMSU. The Aggies are 34th in the nation in 3-point field goal and 44th in field goal defense at 37.9 percent. They lead the Western Athletic Conference in scoring defense at 59.6 points per game.

The Aggies, behind Sy who had a career-high 14 boards in NMSU's 58-52 win at South Alabama, are No. 19th in the nation in rebounding margin at a plus 9.6.

There are a lot of Aggies who can hurt you. Mullings, 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe and Sy have all posted double-doubles this season. Mullings went off for 21 points and 11 boards against Southern Miss.

You combine this Aggie rebounding and Aggie defense (six of nine foes have scored 60 or fewer points) with all this in-state emotion and you come up with an obvious conclusion.

There is going to be a war in The Pit - and in the paint.

UNLV Rebels: You can't say the NMSU games are not important. They are. But when the Rebels slash into The Pit on Jan. 9, this is Mountain West time.

And have you been paying attention to the men's MW success going into this week: UNM 10-0, Wyoming 10-0, UNLV 7-1, SDSU 7-1, Air Force 7-2, Boise State 6-2, CSU 6-2, Fresno State 5-4, Nevada 5-4. This will not be an easy league to win.

The Rebels will be looking for a major MW breakthrough on the road and the Lobos need to protect the home court. Of course, there is a lot of basketball ego and swagger on the line, too.

The UNLV Rebels and the San Diego State Aztecs were supposed to be the class of the Mountain before the Lobos rolled out their 10-0 mark and jumped ahead of Rebels and Aztecs in the polls.

These Rebels are very, very good, but what happened to the Anthony Marshall/Mike Moser show? There is a new kid in town and a new name on the Vegas Convention Center's board.

The Rebs are being led by McDonald's All-American/freshman phenom Anthony Bennett. This rookie Reb not only looks like one of the best freshmen in the nation, but one of the best players, period. Is it possible that Bennett could be the MW's Freshman of The Year and MW Player of The Year?

Right now, the answer is "Yes."

It's early and SDSU's Jamaal Franklin is still the favorite, but the 6-foot-8 Bennett tops the UNLV scoring charts with a gaudy 19.5 average and is the Rebs' top board man at 8.3. The kid is good. The kid is no kid. He scored 25 in UNLV's 76-75 win at Cal.

Bennett was named the Mountain West Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and shooting 53.6 percent from the field. He scored six of UNLV's final eight points in the win at Cal.

Bennett looks to join San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard (2009-10) as the only MW player to be named Freshman of the Year and also First Team All-MWC.

Bennett gets double-figure help from Marshall (11.0) and Moser (10.9). Moser is the 6-8 board monster, who transferred from UCLA and almost went into the NBA Draft before returning for the 2012-13 season. He was preseason All-MW and preseason All-American just like Marshall.

Moser might miss The Pit game as he heals from a dislocated elbow, but that date with the Lobos is about when Moser is projected to return.

You think he might miss that game?

Probably not, and Lobo fans shouldn't miss it either. But don't procrastinate. Santa doesn't have any tickets for this game, but the UNM Ticket Office has, well, a few. If you pick them up in person, bring your prongs.