University Arena

The Pit, originally known as University Arena, is a basketball-only arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico, It serves primarily as the home of the University of New Mexico Lobo basketball teams. The arena seats 17,126 for basketball, has 40 luxury suites, and 350 club seats. The Pit opened in 1966 and was known as the "University Arena" until late 2009 when the school officially named the arena after its nickname. The arena is located on the University's South Campus on University Boulevard and Cesar Chavez in southeast Albuquerque, across the street from University Stadium and Isotopes Park.


History

Prior to the building of the arena, the men’s basketball team played at Johnson Gymnasium, a 7,800-seat multi-purpose gym on the University’s main campus. However, with the surge in popularity following the hiring of Bob King and the team’s appearance in the finals of the 1964 National Invitation Tournament, it was decided that a new, larger arena was needed for the team’s growing and dedicated following. The site chosen was across University Boulevard from University Stadium on the University’s new South Campus. The design won international recognition for chief architect Joe Boehning, who still resides in Albuquerque. The arena was built with its floor lying 37 feet (11 m) below grade, giving rise to its now-famous nickname. The 338-by-300-foot Behlen roof was built first, before the pit was excavated and concrete was poured for the foundations. There are no supporting pillars in the seating area of the arena, so there are no obstructed views. The compact area, steep grade and proximity of the seats to the floor contributes to the legendary noise level. Originally seating 14,831, the $1.4 million arena (inexpensive even in its time) opened on Dec. 1, 1966, with New Mexico defeating Abilene Christian College, 62-53. In 1992, to honor the coach who made the arena’s construction possible, the basketball court was renamed the Bob King Court.


Reputation and Tradition

The Pit has a reputation as one of the loudest arenas in the country, often resulting in painfully high decibel levels. Traditionally, fans make the shape of a wolf’s head with their hands and they howl and “woof” like wolves, creating a very hostile playing environment for visitors. The Lobos averaged 15,559 fans through the first 42 years, and ranked in the top 10 nationally in total attendance every season from the opening of The Pit in 1966 through the 2000-01 season. Although attendance has declined somewhat in recent years, the team has continued to rank in the top 20, and still boasts large crowds. Over 11.5 million fans had visited The Pit through 2008, which translates to 95% of its all-time capacity. The Lobos men's basketball team has returned the favor by winning 631 of the 776 games played at The Pit through the 2009-10 basketball season, for a .820 winning percentage, along with 14 NCAA tournament appearances and 15 NIT appearances since the opening of the arena.


A Mile high, and louder than...

Also contributing to its intimidating environment for visitors is the fact that the elevation in Albuquerque is a mile high. This fact is impressed upon visiting teams in several places in The Pit. The tunnel leading down from the locker rooms to the floor has the following message painted on the wall, "Welcome to the legendary Pit, a mile high and louder than..." Additionally, posters in the visiting team's locker rooms provide information on the warning signs of altitude sickness and urge victims to seek immediate medical attention.


The Lady Lobos

The Lobo Women's basketball team also enjoys the home court advantage The Pit offers. Under current head coach Don Flanagan, The Pit has become one of the rowdiest places in all of women's college basketball. The women have compiled a home record of 187-41 (.820) since his hiring. The women's team has also been in the top-10, nationally, in average attendance in each of the last 10 seasons. In 2007-08, the women's team averaged 8,638 fans per game, sixth in the NCAA, and posted a 12-7 record. On nine different occasions, the women's squad has sold out The Pit. Five times they have filled it to the 18,018 regular season capacity. Four times they sold out NCAA tournament games when the capacity was over 16,000. Each of these nine games has come since the 1999 season.


The Pit reviews

The arena has been praised by many different sources. Basketball writer John Feinstein once likened a visiting team's experience in The Pit to "watching Roman gladiators emerging into a wall of sound". During the 1988-89 season, The Pit registered a crowd at 118 decibels, for the loudest crowd in the country, two decibels ahead of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. (Some sources have claimed that the arena has been as loud as 125 decibels at times.) In 1999, Sports Illustrated listed the Top Twenty Sporting Venues of the Century, and The Pit came in 13th, ahead of such locations as Daytona International Speedway, Notre Dame Stadium, St. Andrews Golf Course and the Rose Bowl.


Renovations

The stadium has undergone two major renovations. In 1975, an extension of a cantilevered deck above the original seating, along with dedicated standing-room only space, brought capacity up to 18,018, and cost $2.2 million, more than the original arena itself.


The second renovation, begun in 2009 and completed in time for the 2010-11 basketball season, cost $60 million and brought the facilities up to modern standards. The 2009 renovations included 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of new space, increasing the number of concession stands and rest rooms, adding new digital signage and video boards, upgrading the locker rooms and training facilities, expansion of the concourse, store, and ticket office, the addition of 40 luxury suites and 300 club seats, and extensive glasswork as well as increased ceiling height, which changed the outside appearance of the arena. As part of the renovations, the capacity of the arena was dropped to 14,586 during construction. When finished, the arena held 17,126.


Tournament site

The Pit hosted the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Four, which was the scene of a memorable championship game upset by North Carolina State over heavily favored Houston. The video clip of NC State coach Jim Valvano running around the court at the end of the game documents one of the most famous moments in NCAA basketball history and is now a staple of Final Four television coverage.


The Pit hosted Men's NCAA tournaments in 1968, 1978, 1985, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2005, making it a common venue for NCAA Tournament games. It also hosted the 1987, 1995, and 1996 Western Athletic Conference men's basketball tournaments and the NCAA Women's host for the 2003 Regional, 2004 1st and 2nd round, 2006 Regional, 2008 1st and 2nd round, 2009 1st and 2nd round, and 2011 1st and 2nd round. The Pit is scheduled to be a host for the Men’s 2012 2nd and 3rd round.


Men's NCAA Tournaments:


Men’s Basketball in The Pit

High School Basketball

The New Mexico Activities Association will host the first-ever Tip-Off Classic at the Pit on November 19, 2010. The two game event will consist of the Santa Fe Indian School girls basketball team taking on Gallup High School followed by the Gallup boys against Espanola Valley High School. It is believed to be the first regular season games ever to be played at the Pit. Gallup, Espanola Valley and SFIS typically draw large crowds during the state basketball tournament. Santa Fe Indian School Lady Braves and West Las Vegas Lady Dons played in the first ever sell out of a girls basketball game in New Mexico, SFIS defeated WLV for the 2010 state championship 56-50 before a crowd of 14,500. The Espanola Valley Sundevils played in front of the largest crowd of the 2010 NMAA State Basketball Championships. Over 14,500 fans showed up to watch the 4A title game.

Building Activity

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