ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sound carries in the thin air here at 5,200 feet.
The sound of 14,115 red-clad University of New Mexico basketball fans propelling their tonsils across the stateline. The sound of officials' whistles screeching in UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard's ears.
And the sound of this young Bruin team thudding through what Hazzard called: "One of the worst games we've played since I've been here."
The jubilant crowd of Lobo fanatics delighted in New Mexico's 77-66 win over UCLA Monday night in that wind tunnel known as the Pit. It gave the Lobos the right to partake in the next round of the Big Apple National Invitation Tournament in New York Friday and sent the Bruins home to ponder a game that was poorly played by both teams.
"I don't think either team will make Naismith jump up in his grave," Hazzard said.
That was in partial reference to the inaccuracy of both teams: The Bruins shot 36% and the Lobos 35%. Certain Bruins shot worse than others, of course. Jerome (Pooh) Richardson had 6 points and was 1 of 8.
The Bruins (1-1) had the lead for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game, got it again for two minutes later in the first half, then trailed for the rest of the game. At one point in the first half, the Lobos held the Bruins scoreless for more than four minutes.
Everyone expected the din to affect the game. The acoustics of the building have a direct relationship to the Lobos' 277-72 record at home.
But Hazzard didn't want to hear about how the crowd had bothered his players; he had another group in mind. "We didn't get one break, not one," Hazzard said. "I think they (the officials) were intimidated by the crowd.
Asked if the crowd had indeed intimidated the officials, Lobo Coach Gary Colson deadpanned: "They say that does happen."
Actually, the officials called the personal fouls nearly equal--UCLA had 23 to New Mexico's 22. It was the timing of the calls that hurt.
"Every time there was a turning point in the game, it seemed like something happened, like an official would call something against us," Richardson said.
The Bruins hardly needed the officials to foul things up. They had been doing that nicely for themselves. When shot after shot bounced off the rim, the Bruins began to press and take ill-advised shots.
Foul shooting, too, was nettlesome for UCLA. While the Bruins were racing to close a 12-point deficit late in the game, the Lobos were sinking free throws. The Bruins weren't.
"They made their free throws down the stretch," Hazzard said. "It was a sloppy game, and we were just more sloppy."
From the start, it was clear the fans were going to be the extra element in the game. To get an idea of how excitable this crowd is, it let out a deafening roar when Charles Thomas won the tip-off. They are the sort of fans who stand with their arms in the air and their throats on full blast until the home team scores its first basket. Then they sit down.
"There were times when my ears were ringing," Trevor Wilson said. "We couldn't hear the signals from Pooh. We had to use hand signals."
The Lobos have an exciting team, which gives fans plenty to scream about. The pace is fast and the turnovers are numerous. UCLA had nine in the first half. The teams combined for 27 turnovers in the game.
So furious was the pace in the first half, the two teams combined to put up 90 shots.
As a consequence, there were a whopping 61 rebounds in the first half.
Each team ended up with 59 rebounds. "Every time the ball went up," Colson said, "It was like they were going for their last meal."
Among other problems, UCLA had foul trouble early. Four players ended up with four fouls. . . . Walt Hazzard said the altitude didn't bother his team. A few players thought otherwise. . . . Trevor Wilson, who had 19 points to lead the Bruins, was matched against the Lobos' Hunter Greene, who is his half-brother. Greene, who attended Van Nuys High School, led all scorers with 23 points. . . . The Lobos suffered their worst loss in school history at the hands of the Bruins in 1955, when UCLA won, 106-41. . . . The last time the Bruins played in the Pit was in the 1974 NCAA West Regional. They lost to Arkansas. . . . In another second-round Big Apple NIT game, No. 14-ranked Florida beat No. 18 Georgia Tech, 80-69, at Gainesville, Fla. The Gators (2-0), who played without suspended senior guard Vernon Maxwell, were led by Livingston Chatman with 25 points.