Having experienced Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, and with Allen Fieldhouse of Kansas awaiting later this month, the Golden Bears (4-2) will step foot in another one of the country’s most stories basketball arenas tonight when they face New Mexico (6-0).
The Pit once was rated by Sports Illustrated as the 13th-greatest sports venue of the 20th century, one spot behind England’s Wembley Stadium and one spot ahead of the Boston Marathon course, but also in front of Notre Dame Stadium and the Rose Bowl.
“It’s got a great reputation. I think as much as anything, though, it’s because they’ve had great basketball teams,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “So you add a very interested, large crowd to a good basketball team, like most good teams, they win a lot of their home games.”
In fact, New Mexico has won its four home games this season by an average margin of 20.3 points, one year after going 16-2 in The Pit.
This is the facility’s 44th season, and the Lobos have 618 wins and just 144 losses at home over that span, a sparkling .811 winning percentage.
Through the 2007-08 season, they averaged 15,559 fans, or 95-percent capacity.
The Lobos have averaged “only” 11,316 fans for their four home games this season because the upper seating isn’t available due to a $60 million arena renovation that will be complete next year.
“Eleven or 12 thousand in the lower bowl will be plenty loud,” said Montgomery, who is 1-0 in the building, having won there eight seasons ago while at Stanford.
The building that was the site of the 1983 Final Four, when the late Jim Valvano danced around the court after North Carolina State’s improbable upset of Houston, The Pit was judged the loudest college basketballl venue in the country by “Hoops Across America” in 1999, with a decibel level of 118.
It will be good news for the Bears tonight if their play can quell some of that noise.
HEALTH UPDATE: Harper Kamp actually made the trip to New Mexico, although he will not play and likely will be redshirted to allow his knee to heal completely. Theo Robertson, who will miss his fifth straight game with a foot injury, stayed behind, hoping to get in good workouts on his own Tuesday and Wednesday, so the Bears can consider getting him back on the floor one of the next two games.
Montgomery said Markhuri Sanders-Frison will be available to play, but likely will be limited after losing nearly 10 pounds because he didn’t eat much for 3-4 days while battling the flu. Jorge Gutierrez should be OK — his flu bout wasn’t as severe — but Omondi Amoke was a little light-headed Monday and did not practice.
Albuquerque is at 5,280 feet above sea level — 1 mile — and the Lobos have a sign in The Pit reminding visiting teams what they’re up against. Will that adversely impact a team trying to get healthy?
“It’s probably not going to help. We’re not mentioning it,” Montgomery said. “I think initially there’ll be a bit of stab of (gasping). Once you get through that first burn, it settles in.”
NEW MEXICO SCOUT: This will not be an easy game for the Bears. Here is Monty’s appraisal of the Lobos:
“They’ve got three really good perimeter shooters at 2-3-4. The point guard does a nice job of running the club. Doesn’t look to shoot, but can score. Ramon Martinez is a real good player, he’s going to be a tough matchup for us. He’s a 6-6, 6-7 catch-and-shoot guy who’s going to put our 4 guy, Jamal, in a tough spot because he’s very, very active. (Darington) Hobson’s a very active 3 man. They’re both left-handed. Both shooting over 40 percent from 3. It’s going to be a tough matchup for us, those 3-4 matchups.
“They’re a good solid man team, although I suspect we’ll see some zone. They run a lot of motion stuff, flare screens, isolation-type things for their good players. They’re 6-0, a good basketball team. It’s going to be a real tough game for us.”
Hobson, a JC transfer, had 30 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Louisiana Tech. He’s dished five or more assists in four of their six games.
Martinez scored 24 points against New Mexico State and also has games of 19 and 18 points.
Phillip McDonald, the Lobos’ 2 man, is a sophomore who scored 27 against New Mexico State, and started 33 games as a freshman.
ETCETERA: Randle’s 22 points vs. Princeton give him 1,307 for his career, elevating him to 14th on Cal’s all-time list. Patrick Christopher is 18th at 1,237, one point ahead of Ryan Anderson and two behind BrianWethers . . . The Bears and Lobos have met five times, with Cal winning four of them, including a 70-68 victory on March 19, 2008 in the first round of the NIT. Jamal Boykin made two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to clinch the win . . . Call is 1-1 all-time at The Pit in Albuquerque . . . Montgomery has coached in the building once, directing his 2001-02 Stanford team to a season-opening 81-66 victory.
TIPOFF: 6 p.m.
TV: CBS College
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Jamal Boykin 6-8 Sr. 11.3 6.2
C Max Zhang 7-2 So. 4.0 4.0
SG Jorge Gutierrez 6-2 So. 5.2 2.8*
SG Patrick Chrstopher 6-5 Sr. 13.8 4.0
PG Jerome Randle 5-10 Sr. 20.5 4.0*
F Omondi Amoke 6-7 So. 6.5 7.5
C Markhuri Sanders-Frison 6-8 Jr. 5.2 4.0
G Nikola Knezevic 6-3 Sr. 2.8 0.6
NEW MEXICO (6-0)
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
SF Darington Hobson 6-7 Jr. 18.2 7.3
PF A.J. Hardeman 6-8 So. 7.7 7.0
SF Roman Martinez 6-6 Sr. 14.7 5.7
SG Phillip McDonald 6-5 So. 13.0 2.5
PG Dairese Gary 6-1 Jr. 8.0 3.7*
G Jamal Fenton 5-9 Fr. 6.5 2.6*
G Nate Garth 6-2 So. 4.5 2.5*
* – Assists