When Richard Pitino arrived at the University of New Mexico, he knew there was a challenge that needed to be addressed.
Scheduling road games can be quite easy when it comes to padding a top-flight team’s non-conference schedule.
The challenge at UNM has always been to get the best non-conference competition to come to the Pit, a venue well-known for sending teams home with an upset-loss, if not giving the visiting team its toughest battle of the season.
As Lobo fans yearn for teams like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina, coaches at New Mexico are always challenged to get teams that aren’t afraid to potentially go home with a loss.
With the New Mexico home-and-home series being cancelled this season, UNM was both without two games, but more importantly, without one of its best income games of the season.
Richard Pitino just so happens to have a father who coaches at Iona (formerly at Kentucky and Louisville, where he faced the Lobos in the 2012 NCAA tournament in Portland enroute to an NCAA title, as well as the Boston Celtics), Rick Pitino.
Rick Pitino has been the head coach at Iona since the 2020-21 season and worked with Richard Pitino to bring his Gaels to the Pit this season.
The game is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, December 18 at 4:30 p.m.
For a while, the father vs. son angle was the major selling point of this event.
But recently, that angle has been pushed aside for the fact that this has become a very intriguing matchup.
The Lobos enter Sunday’s game with a 10-0 record for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Iona started the season at 2-2 but has reeled off five straight victories to enter the Pit at 7-2.
“The real reason why I played the game has nothing to do with my father, it’s because Iona is going to win a lot of games,” Richard Pitino said on Team Talk Thursday, December 17. “They have a net in the 30s and we have a net in the 20s. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to compete, they’re going to try to speed us up, so it should be entertaining.”
As of Friday, UNM announced that over 13-thousand tickets had been sold.
“This situation, I wanted to rebuild our roster, our culture, our foundation, but I also wanted to rebuild this amazing fanbase, and this is an opportunity to do this,” Richard Pitino said. “I felt like we could get a great crowd, we’re going to get a great crowd. I felt like we could get a nationally televised game, we got one on Fox Sports 1, so mission accomplished, now let’s see if we can go get a big win.”
In a season where the excitement for the 2022-23 Lobo team has been building, the atmosphere alone for this matchup may be the catalyst to bring the excitement to a new level. Especially if the Lobos get that big win.