Albuquerque Journal

Fans: NIT means progress for UNM

Those in the Pit, anyway, see Lobos’ glass half-full


Back in the day, finding Michael Muldawer at the Palestra was a safe bet. A Philadelph­ia native and former University of Pennsylvan­ia student, he would take his wife, a former student at Temple, more often than not to soak up city basketball in one of the country’s most storied arenas.

The Palestra is still beloved, but for clarity’s sake: this was the golden era. Felt in full houses for Big 5 doublehead­ers. Seen in luminaries like Bill Bradley on the court. Heard when cheers for La Salle and Temple, still close to the pulse of college basketball, rained down. “You saw great stuff,” he said. And like many, he was hooked. So in 1970, when Muldawer and his wife moved to New Mexico, he was drawn to the Pit. He liked the passion. The similariti­es to the Palestra atmosphere, defined not by the student body but the city around it.

In the early 1990s, he got seats at the Lobo Level, essentiall­y the Pit’s version of courtside seating. Muldawer, 82, was there again on Wednesday night, where he gazed around briefly.

“I’m kind of disappoint­ed,” he said, fans filtering in slowly. “We’re not going to have really much of a turnout. If they end up with 7,000 fans, I’d be surprised.”

An announced turnout of 6,803 showed out on Wednesday as the Lobos broke a nine-year postseason drought with their first National Invitation­al Tournament (NIT) appearance since 2011, another endearing positive in a season filled with them.

And 6,803 were also on hand as New Mexico trailed by 13 at the intermissi­on before ultimately falling to Utah Valley 83-69, another deflating loss in a closing stretch that was all too defined by them.

“Always, something goes wrong,” Muldawer said. “But I’m still here.”

It wasn’t the postseason appearance many New Mexico fans were hoping for in December. January. For some, February.

But of the fans surveyed by the Journal before Wednesday night’s game, they were positive about the opportunit­y to host the NIT and the state of the program going forward.

Rick Salazar, 55, was one of them. A season-ticket holder, he said he called

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