New Mexico Lobos defeated a scrappy Montana in their first round game in the NCAA Tournament 62-57. The Lobos have 30 wins on a season for the first time in their history. They ended the season ranked number 8 in the country in one poll, the highest they've ever finished in the polls at the end of the season. For a team no one expected much from they have been the one ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy year for everyone in Albuquerque and New Mexico.
I first started following the Lobos in 1968 when they played in the NIT championship game, though they lost. Mel Daniels was the star and went on to a fine ABA and NBA career. The next year they won 17 games to start the season and reached up to 5th in the nation. Ron Nelson was the point guard and still the slickest ball handler ever for the Lobos. The following year everyone had high expectations, but with Nelson gone due to graduation the chemistry wasn't right. Since then the team has been up and down. There were some good years with Michael Cooper and Luc Longley, both with numerous NBA championship rings, but usually they make it into the NCAA and lose in the first round or go into the NIT and lose in the second round.
I remember when Longley was on the team and they played Saint Louis in the NIT. I was working a second job to pay for day care as a security guard walking employees out of a department store to their cars. I was listening to the game on a transistor radio. They were up by 20 at half time and the Billigans beat them on a last second shot at the buzzer. The lady I was escorting looked at me and wanted to know if she needed to call 911 since I was in so much pain.
That seems to sum up the love/hate relationship the fans around here have with the Lobos. It is the only consistently winning team. The football team is usually a joke.
New Mexico State is also in the tournament and could do well. They made it into the final four once, losing to UCLA with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabar). I usually count the Lobo season as poor if they lose twice to the Aggies, fair if they split and good if they win both games.
I also miss the delayed telecasts. That's what got most of the fans here hooked. The games are usually over by ten and the telecasts would start around ten forty-five. You could see all the home games. The Pit was still packed, but ESPN put an end to free telecasts like that and local fandom hasn't been the same since.
Go Lobos on Saturday against Washington.