Cats expect hostile crowd

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Most Wildcat fans were thrilled when the selection committee placed Arizona in the Albuquerque sub-regional. After all, the campus of New Mexico is less than a seven hour drive from Tucson. At first the Wildcats appeared to have a nice home away from home advantage. If that's what you thought, think again.

The Wildcats return to the Pit after coach Lute Olson vowed never to play there after a curious clock snafu cost Arizona a game in 1999. That statement fueled the already anti-Arizona denizens of Albuquerque. Local fans snapped up a ton on tickets and most of them will be rooting against their former WAC rivals.

"These (New Mexico) are great fans from the standpoint that they put a lot into the game," Olson said. "They are like our fans in Tucson where we said from the start we don't need spectators, we need participants."

During this week's Jim Rome show, dozens of Lobo fans e-mailed the host to tell him that they'd pack the arena with "18,000 fans rooting against the Wildcats." The host, a UC-Santa Barbara alum encouraged the fans to root against the Wildcats.

"We're hoping for that," said UCSB guard Branduinn Fullove of the Albuquerque fan support. "I heard a couple of people on the plane on the way here talking about how they don't appreciate Lute Olson too much and they're behind us all the way. We're anticipating that a little bit."

"I hear the crowd's not going to be on our side," Jason Gardner said. "I think we've played through that in all the road games that we have. So I think it's just like playing another road game, people saying things about you, heckling you. You just have to go out there and play."

The seeding committee did not help the Cats any by providing them a possible second-round showdown with America's favorite Cinderella, Gonzaga. Not only are the Zags loved for their improbable tournament runs, but most of America is sympathizing with the team for an improbably low six seed. Those who like the underdogs will be rooting against the Wildcats in both rounds.

If Gonzaga is upset in the first round, the Wildcats' foe would be a conference rival of the Lobos. The New Mexico faithful would clearly back their team's Mountain West partners, the Wyoming Cowboys.

Olson believes that the hostile environment could pay dividends.

"We like to play in places where there are enthusiastic fans."

Notes:

*The Wildcats are 1-1under Olson in the Pit in neutral site games. They lost to Alabama in the 1985 NCAA Tournament. They beat Tennessee 73-72 in the 1998 Black Coaches Association Classic at the Pit.

*Olson says he would consider playing New Mexico at the Pit, but only if the game was nationally televised.

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