March 23, 2019 Currently: 69° | Complete forecast

Our rivalry with New Mexico and playing at the Pit


Associated Press

A look at The Pit, the legendary basketball facility at the University of New Mexico. It is considered the toughest college basketball facility to play in for opponents.

We had some great games with New Mexico over the years at The Pit.

That’s one of the toughest places to play in college basketball and I just loved the atmosphere in that arena. The gym is built underground and you feel like their fans are looking down on you the entire game.

It's fun and challenging at the same time, definitely one of those games the kids gear up for and always remember.

Albuquerque is a great town and one of my favorite places to visit. I just love the enthusiasm they have for basketball.

I told Steve Alford when he got the job there that he didn’t realize how passionate those fans were about basketball and that program. I saw Steve last year and told him how great of a job he is doing there. He took a lot of heat during his final year at Iowa and I’m happy he found a home at New Mexico.

Norm Ellenberger was the coach at New Mexico when we started playing them at UNLV in the 1970s. We had a real good series with them because his guys played hard and fast.

One game stands out because we had a 76-game home winning streak and they came here and beat us. I will never forget that game.

We went to scout them the week before when they played at San Diego and they didn’t look good. I actually felt sorry for them because Norm and his staff were good guys and good coaches. I guess we backed off a little and they beat us 102-98.

It was one heck of a game, too. I learned my lesson to never feel sorry for a team when you have to play them. That was my philosophy after that game.

New Mexico also beat us in recruiting Michael Cooper, who went on to star with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He committed to us at first, but when we saw his transcripts, we knew he didn’t have enough junior college credits to be eligible. It was perfect, though, because we had Sam Smith, Eddie Owens and Glen Gondrezick all returning. Cooper could have sat out a year, then had a spot in the lineup.

But he wound up at New Mexico.

I asked Norm, “How did you get him eligible? He only had 36 credits.” Norm told me, “Tark, he had a hell of a summer. He was in the library all the time and got 12 units.”

Cooper turned out to be a great player. Too bad it wasn’t for us.

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