Saturday, December 31, 2022

Sam Houston State Bearkats 75 at New Mexico State Aggies 62 (NCAA Basketball, WAC) - December 31, 2022

When I travel with my family, we don't plan more than a day or two in advance, because we like to keep things flexible. So when I flew from Phoenix to Albuquerque on December 30, we had no idea where we would spend New Year's Eve. But my wife and kid were interested in seeing White Sands National Park, which is near Las Cruces. And wouldn't you know it, the scheduling gods had set a 4 p.m. college basketball game at New Mexico State, which is in Las Cruces. So we drove the three hours down I-25, one of the best interstate routes in the country due to beautiful scenery, 75 MPH speed limits, and few other drivers.

After dropping the family off at the hotel, I headed over to the Pan American Center, home of the Aggies. Parking here is free and the lot is huge, and with relatively few fans in attendance, there was no problem getting in or out. I made my way to the ticket window and found a gentleman there with an envelope. I inquired politely if he had extras. He informed me that his friend had contracted COVID and could not make the game, but he wanted to sell his tickets. I only needed one and told him that I was going to pay $15 at the box office. He said he would take $12 and when I saw that it was a season ticket (below), I quickly agreed. As an aside, have a look at the beauty of this ticket. The home uniform, the visiting uniform (inaccurate on this day, but still fetching with the WAC logo), the school logo, the venue logo, and the game number in a basketball icon. Even UnderArmour gets into the act. There is no reason that professional sports organizations cannot do something like this. But no, they choose to force their season ticket holders into accepting mobile tickets. Shameful. Every game should be treated like it matters, because to some fans making their first visit or only visit, a souvenir like this is incredibly meaningful.

Anyway, I walked in and was immediately impressed. The venue opened in 1968 and its name comes from its location just off I-25, which is also known as the Pan American Highway. So in its 55 years, it has not undergone a single name change. Kudos to the school for keeping it that way.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible Hall of Fame that takes up much of the concourse. Large photos can be found on the upper walls (above), but each athlete or team also gets a write-up along the concourse. On the left below is the 1969-70 basketball team that finished third, losing to UCLA in the semi-final but beating St. Bonaventure in the third-place game. Current Raptor and NBA Champion Pascal Siakim played here, but he has yet to be inducted.

As mentioned, there weren't many fans here on this day (attendance was announced at 4,765 but capacity is 12,482) so there was plenty of space in the concourse and I was able to move around easily.

After wandering the concourse, I entered the seating bowl and was awestruck. Truly an old-school building, with seats to match the school's colours, and a change in angle midway through the lower bowl.

There are two levels here, but the upper level was closed. There are benches here, but each one now has a rather thin, grey chairback; I'm not sure how comfortable these are. They do make for an interesting picture however.

The court is also quite nice, with Pistol Pete at midcourt and the lighter arcs. Really a striking combination that makes it one of the more attractive venues in college hoops.

Lou Henson coached here on two occasions, and is recognized for his contributions to the program. He can be seen on the lower right in the photo below. 

Of course, that 1970 Final Four team deserves the biggest banner; note that Henson's 779 wins include his time at Hardin-Simmons and Illinois.

There are also some decent concession deals here, with a Pistol Pete combo consisting of a hot dog, chips, and a giant soda going for $8; a kid's combo replaces the chips with a box of popcorn and is just $6. My daughter regretted not going after hearing that.

As I was meandering through the seating bowl at one end of the court, all the fans in the area turned around. I had no idea what they were looking at until the lights went out and the Aggies came down the stairs, with some accompanying pyrotechnics. A unique touch to a unique venue and one that really made my visit here very memorable. 

Overall, the Pan American Center was an unexpected surprise and the sort of visit that keeps me going on these crazy quests. Las Cruces may not be on many tourist bucket lists, but if you are a college hoophead, this arena should be. If only the game was as memorable.

The Game

The Sam Houston State Bearkats were the visitors, wearing black uniforms with orange trim, which is why the ticket shown above was a bit inaccurate. Both clubs had lost their first WAC matchup of the season.

The Bearkats were hot off the start, sinking six treys in the first 12:30, while the Aggies were stone cold, hitting just one in that time as they fell behind 31-15 on their way to a 38-25 halftime deficit.

The second half was more even, but the Aggies could get no closer than ten points, as SHSU continued to be solid from downtown. They finished 13/27 from long range, and 13/23 inside the arc (NMSU was 9/25 and 12/21 respectively) as the visitors won 75-62. There were 52 total attempts from three-point land, and only 44 from inside, the type of game that leads to blowouts when one team is so much more accurate.


New Mexico State player Mike Peake is suspended after killing a New Mexico student in self-defense at the end of November. I have read quite a bit on this story and find it hard to believe that kids in this area are carrying weapons and engaging in such incidents. Three other players who played in this game were involved in getting Peake away from the scene, and the coaches also made some questionable decisions afterward. Expect to hear more about this story if the NCAA gets more involved. 

Update 2/14/23: The school indefinitely suspended the basketball program in February after more allegations arose and then cancelled the rest of the season a few days later. Turns out those allegations were completely unconnected and due to hazing. 

I ended up seeing 73 new venues in 2022 and finished with 957 overall. I hope to hit 1,000 in 2023. Keep checking in to see if I do.



Friday, December 30, 2022

Toronto Maple Leafs 3 at Arizona Coyotes 6 - December 29, 2022

Before the start of the 2021-22 NHL season, the Arizona Coyotes were told that they would not be playing in Gila River Arena in Glendale for 2022-23, meaning that they needed to find new accommodations rather quickly. Majority owner Alex Meruelo wants to keep the team in the desert, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman agrees. It is obviously impossible to build a new NHL arena in a year, so the Coyotes did the next best thing and negotiated with Arizona State University, who were constructing a new multi-purpose venue that would be ready for the 2022-23 season. The Coyotes spent $19 million on improvements to bring dressing rooms and other areas up to NHL standards. Still, things weren't quite ready when the season got underway and the club commenced the campaign with a six-game road trip, before coming back for four games where the clubs had to dress in temporary locker rooms. They then embarked upon a 14-game swing around the continent before finally returning to enjoy the home-heavy portion of their schedule, which included the Leafs two days before New Year's Eve.

In order to combine keeping current with Club 124 and seeing the Leafs in every road venue, I really wanted to see this game. But as it was held over Christmas, I turned the trip into one with the family where we spent most of the time in Colorado and New Mexico. The initial plan was to drive to Tempe from Albuquerque on that day (about 6.5 hours), but with questionable weather in the forecast, I booked a Southwest flight instead, and a return flight on American. As you probably know, Southwest had some problems that week, and my flight was one of many that was cancelled. Driving was still an option, but the night before, the questionable weather arrived and a snowstorm closed I-40. It looked like a case of "Wait till next year" but then I checked flights and found that American had an early flight that had suddenly become available. I booked it (and Southwest eventually paid!) and thankfully everything worked well that day. I arrived in Phoenix before lunch and took the free AirTrain to the light rail, which goes to Tempe. After a brief stop at my hotel, I met up with fellow sports travellers Meg and Kevin and we enjoyed catching up over a couple of beers. Later that evening, I walked over to Mullett Arena, named for the typical hockey hairstyle in the 1980s. OK, that may be false information, apparently the university has some benefactors with that coincidental name.

Anyway, I had a Stadium Journey credential and was able to get in before the crowd. Which wasn't really a crowd, with attendance capped at 4,600. Still, it was nice to experience the rink when it was empty. You might think from the pictures above and below that the seats are orange, but upon closer inspection, you will see that there were giveaway jerseys on each seat. These are the Coyotes reverse retro jerseys, a trend that the NHL is exploiting to the max. 

As this is an NCAA venue, there is only one level of seating. At one end, there are only benches; this would be the student section when the Sun Devils are playing, but for the Coyotes, these are expensive seats ($166 before fees for this tilt). If you don't mind standing, there are SRO tickets made available for much less, though only if the game sells out. Which it usually does.

There are a few glass seats at one end that are of the folding chair variety...

...while the VIPs such as Vince Vaughn get much more comfortable chairs.

Along one side is a club area that has free beer and food, and without a ticket you will not gain admittance, so you cannot do a full tour of the single concourse. 

On the other side (above) is a small display dedicated to Sun Devil hockey, including their 2014 national championship trophy, back when they were a club (non-varsity) team. I actually saw them play in Tucson that season while on my NFL road trip.

There are suites along both sides that offer the best views of the ice, below you can see them stretching along one sideline.

At the far end is the Devil Deck (none of the signage changes when the Coyotes play), which is more of an open area that does require a ticket; the view from the corner is below. Again, that is an NHL rink we are looking at.

The four-sided scoreboard is rather small for the league, but it does the job. There are your typical promotions and cheerleaders can be found amongst the crowd, but generally this is somewhat quieter than what you would experience elsewhere in the league.

Concessions are varied and typically priced for the NHL, though I am not sure if they are cheaper when the Sun Devils are playing. The most notable option is Shaq's Big Chicken, which has a couple of very tempting sandwiches that I will have to try next time I am here.

Overall, Mullett Arena looks to be an excellent spot for college hockey, but it obviously won't meet the requirements of an NHL rink. Still, it's better than Barclays Center for hockey, and pretty cool to watch the big boys play in such cozy confines. Just try for a game that doesn't feature a popular opponent, so you might have some money left over to enjoy the food.

The Game

The Leafs came in after an OT win in St. Louis (and a $100,000 fine for flying on Boxing Day) but they have struggled with the Coyotes for years. Arizona was +250 and as they had already beaten Boston here, I expected them to defeat the Leafs, telling that to Meg and Kevin. Sure enough, just 46 seconds in, Auston Mathews gave the puck away in his own zone and Nick Bjugstad skated in on Matt Murray, beating him with a nifty backhand just 46 seconds in. This was an improvement over the last time I saw the Leafs, when Vegas scored 45 seconds in. 

But much like that game, Toronto came back, this time with a couple of power play markers, including one with just a second left in the penalty, to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. The Buds were clearly the better team, but Coyote keeper Karel Vejmelka made some key stops and was helped by his post a few times, something I expected would come back to haunt the Leafs later. Early in the second, Mitch Marner took a stupid tripping penalty and Arizona needed just 6 seconds to even things up as Jakob Chychrun (on his knee above, with the puck in the net). Toronto got that back when Alexander Kerfoot banged home a loose puck midway through and they took the 3-2 lead into the final frame.

The Leafs had yet to lose in regulation when leading after two, but a few minutes in Conor Timmins decided to skate in front of his net and lost control of the puck, forcing him to take another dumb penalty. It looked like the Leafs would kill it, but J.J. Moser scored on a beautiful top-shelf shot with one second left in the power play. Could the Leafs get to overtime? Nope. Another sloppy Leaf giveaway led to an Arizona 2-on-1 and Jack McBain converted a Lawson Crouse pass with 6:17 to go. The Leafs had a couple of chances to tie, but could not solve Vejmelka, and Arizona added a pair of empty-netters to annoy those who had under 8.5 goals.

Not a good game for Toronto and one that tells me their Stanley Cup dreams are still a ways from reality. Then again, they beat Colorado two days later in Denver, so probably not a good idea to read too much from one game. 


I have seen the Coyotes five times in Arizona (in three venues) and they have come up with 9 of the 10 points, including all 4 against Toronto. The only blemish was a shootout loss to Chicago in 2008.

If the Coyotes move to a new rink in 2025, that will make four venues in 30 years. 

There is no new Club 124 venue this year 2023. The next venue as of now is the Intuit Dome, which will house the Los Angeles Clippers and is set to open in 2024.



Thursday, December 29, 2022

Colorado State Rams 69 at New Mexico Lobos 88 (NCAA Basketball, Mountain West) - December 28, 2022

After a week touring southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, we made a wrong turn and arrived in Albuquerque. As luck would have it, the New Mexico Lobos were home Wednesday night and so I made my way over to The Pit, one of the most iconic venues in college basketball.

I drove over from my hotel and paid $12 to park in a lot east of the football stadium rather than look for a free spot on a nearby street. Despite arriving over an hour before tip, I was surprised at how many fans were already there. I walked over to the arena and asked about the cheapest single at the box office, which was $35 for an upper level bleacher. I decided to wait around and found a gentleman with a chairback in row 23 for $30. I thought row 23 was a bit high, but as it was a hard ticket, I bought it from him. 

The venue opened in 1966, a great year for new things. It was officially known as University Arena, but quickly gained the nickname of The Pit as the floor is 37 feet below ground level. A couple of sponsors had naming rights between 2014-20, but when the most recent agreement expired, the university decided to simply call it The Pit. Capacity was over 18,000 for much of its history, but renovations in 2009-10 lowered this to 15,411. 

Chairbacks take up the sideline behind the team benches, while the opposite side has a few rows of more comfortable padded seats near the floor. The rest of the seating area consists of bleachers. 

The student section, known as the Howl Raisers, is behind one baseline, with the band above. Students stand throughout the game and add a lot to the atmosphere, making The Pit one of the loudest venues in the land. Although this was a game played during the holiday week, the student section was packed, as was the rest of the stadium with attendance just 200 short of capacity. Ignore the pictures that were taken just after I arrived, by the time the game tipped off, nearly every seat was filled. I have seen several college hoops games during the holidays, and usually students are back home, but they were out in force for this one. Maybe they had all booked Southwest and were stranded.

Most fans spend the time before the game wandering the concourse, which makes it rather crowded as it gets narrow in places. There are many concession stands serving a wide variety of food, some of it with a southwest bent, and prices are typical. Beer is also available, something that is getting more common at on-campus venues.

Still, you should take the time to walk around the entire concourse, because there is some history on display, with small boards detailing each decade in Lobo hoops, while larger ones celebrate the arena, past stars, and the 1983 Final Four, which was held here and is still considered one of the best ever.

There is also a selfie station, in other words, an oversized mascot statue. Named Lobo Louie, his real-life counterpart was found on the floor participating with the cheerleaders and helping out during promotions.

When I looked for my seat, I was surprised to see that row 1 is at the top, and rows increase as you get closer to the floor. So my row 23 ticket was just 8 or so rows from the action (view below). Keep that in mind if you are buying on the secondary market. I was right next to the student section as well, which added to the experience.

Overall, The Pit is deserving of its iconic status among college hoops venues and this was only confirmed with the game, which was extremely entertaining, at least for Lobo fans.

The Game

The Colorado State Rams (8-5) were visiting in the first conference game of the campaign. New Mexico, coached by Richard Pitino, was 12-0 and had recently entered the top 25 at #22. 

The game started slowly, with the Rams taking a 5-0 lead over the first two minutes. But in the following 90 seconds, Jaelen House (#10 below), Javonte Johnson, and Jamal Mashburn Jr. all made threes for the Lobos, and House followed that with a layup and another trey to make it 14-5. Morris Udeze added three from the charity stripe to complete a 17-0 run in just 3 1/2 minutes. They didn't stop there, raining threes over a helpless CSU defense. When House added another one to make it 35-16, UNM was 8-10 from long range. Of course, they did not keep up the pace, but a shell-shocked Rams squad could find no answer on offense. Just before the half, the Rams were called for an offensive foul on a buzzer-beating attempt from halfcourt that sent coach Niko Medved into a tizzy that resulted in a technical after the half at ended, with the Lobos leading 49-24.

Mashburn (#5 above) made one of the two freebies to start the second but the Rams found a bit of life scoring 12 points in the first three minutes to get within 16. But they could get no closer and the rest of the game was rather uneventful as they Lobos coasted to an 88-69 win.

House led all scorers with 26 points, while Mashburn had 19. The Lobos ended up 15-25 from three-point land and 15-35 from inside the arc. Basketball is simply not the same but I understand why this might be more entertaining; when a team keeps draining longballs, fans really get into it. 


This was my first college hoops game in New Mexico. There is only one other D1 school in the state (New Mexico State) and I hope to see them on New Year's Eve.

Next Up

I'm already in Tempe for the Leafs at Coyotes and will provide a review of Mullett Arena in the next couple of days.



Thursday, December 22, 2022

Southern Utah Thunderbirds 78 at Colorado Buffaloes 86 (NCAA Basketball) - December 21, 2022

The only addition to the Club 124 landscape this year is Mullett Arena in Tempe, where the Arizona Coyotes will play in front of 4,600 (or less) fans for at least the next three seasons. Rather than make two trips there, I wanted to see the Leafs this season so I can stay current with Club 124 and complete the Toronto on the Road visit at the same time. The NHL schedule makers then made things as difficult as possible, putting that game on December 29. Which is during Christmas break. Which means family trip! So I dragged my poor wife and kid out to Denver to start the roadie, and we were fortunate to fly the day before the bomb cyclone (known as winter when I was a child) arrived. With so much time spent on my World Cup trip, I had not looked at the sports schedules, only doing so after I returned. When I did, I was happy to discover that the Colorado Buffaloes had a hoops game at home on Wednesday evening, with an unusual 5 pm start. So I made the short 35-mile trip from my Aurora hotel to Boulder, though it took nearly an hour due to rush hour traffic through Denver.

During the drive, the temperature dropped from about 40F to 0F as the Arctic cold front made its way across Colorado. As I parked, the snow started, a bad sign for the drive back, but I was thankful for the early start. I raced over to the CU Events Center, stopping to take a picture of the buffalo sculpture nearby (above). Of course, "buffalo" is not correct as these are actually bison, but these days, the two are interchangeable, with American buffalo entering the vernacular.

The venue was opened in 1979 with the more unwieldy appellation CU Events/Conference Center; the Conference was dropped in 2008. Between 1990 and 2018, Coors had the naming rights and some still refer to it as the Coors Event Center. Parking is free at a number of lots close by, including a covered garage just north of the arena that was the best option on this night. Needless to say, being an idiot, I did not use it.

Go up the stairs to the ticket window, where the cheapest is $25. Given the weather, there would be no problem moving around and so I picked one up; when Pac-12 royalty visits, things might be a bit different.

The building is an eight-sided concrete structure with a single concourse above the seating bowl, which holds 11,064. Plenty of concessions can be found along here, and alcohol is sold, though prices are like those in the big leagues. Not that drinking on this night would be advisable.

There are a number of features along the walls, such as one showing where past Buffaloes are playing now; the majority are plying their trade in Europe. 

There is also a very informative display on the history of Ralphie, the buffalo mascot, who is obviously not featured at basketball games. Guess I'll be back for football sometime.

An impressive work of art can also be found along the concourse (below). There are also photos of past greats such as Chauncey Billups and Cliff Meely. 

In terms of seating, one end zone is composed entirely of benches, and just below that is the VIP area, which seems to be not ideal for those interested in watching the game as the seats seem rather low and the baseline is not the best place to see the action.

The other end zone is the student section and also where the band sits; there are some box seats near the front here. As the school was on break when I attended, there weren't many students in attendance, though the band did have enough members show up to play.

The rest of the seating bowl is gold, one of the school's two main colours. There is a four-sided scoreboard above center court, and two stat boards at opposite corners. 

Colorado has had some success in hoops, though much of that was in years past, including an NIT title in 1940 and Final Four appearances in 1942 and 1955. Their only Pac-12 title came in 2012, their first year in the conference, and they went on to upset UNLV in the first round of the tournament before losing to Baylor. The court is named for Sox Walseth, who coached here for 20 seasons between 1956-76 and won 261 games in that time, the most in Colorado history.

Overall, CU Events Center is a simple basketball venue and one that I quite enjoyed. I always like these venues where the concourse is above the seating bowl as you can watch the action from anywhere. Boulder is just 30 minutes from Denver, so if you are in the Mile High City and the Buffs are home too, consider a short trip here to see the CU Events Center. Just beware the weather; it took me well over an hour to drive the 35 miles back to my hotel in the snow.

The Game

The Southern Utah Thunderbirds were in town and brought their second-ranked 91 PPG scoring average and 8-4 record with them. Colorado was 7-5 with road losses to Grambling and UMass standing out, but they were on a 3-game home win streak. The Buffaloes were favoured by 11.5 with the over/under at 154.5, rather low I thought, given the Thunderbirds prodigious output.

The first half was quite good, with both teams showing their strengths. After a Cameron Healy trey gave the Southern Utah a 16-9 lead, the Buffs went on an 11-0 run in less than a minute, part of a larger 21-5 spurt that had them in control. But the T-Birds scored the last 8 points of the half to go into the break down 38-34.

The teams stayed close through the first part of the second half, and when Maizen Fausett drained a three, the visitors had a 57-55 lead. Colorado's Julian Hammond III responded with a three and a layup before Drake Allen got two points to get Southern Utah back within a point, down 60-59. Over the next 2:29, however, the T-Birds missed three shots and turned the ball over twice, allowing the Buffs a 13-0 run that essentially decided the game. The Thunderbirds fouled unnecessarily down the stretch and only brutal free throw shooting from Colorado allowed it to remain inside the 11.5 point spread as the Buffaloes prevailed 86-78, hitting the over as expected.

This was such a contrast in styles, with both teams shooting 66 times from the field, but the Thunderbirds went 12/29 from beyond the arc, compared to just 3/17 for Colorado. The opposite was true from inside, with the Buffs 28/49 outpacing the 15/37 SUU put up. Still, without the charity stripe, the Thunderbirds would have outscored Colorado 66-65; the difference was in the first half when Southern Utah committed 8 fouls leading to 14 free throws, of which Colorado sank 11; the visitors only went 3/4 from the line. Those extra 8 points ended up being the difference in the game and shows that an interior game is still a good option, particularly when playing an inferior opponent who will be forced to foul.


This was Tad Boyle's 262nd victory as Colorado coach (you can see his silhouette on the scoreboard above), so he now holds the record after passing Walseth. Boyle spoke afterwards, mentioning that only the die-hards were out tonight (attendance was a respectable 5,108) and that the game wasn't pretty.  There was also a video tribute from some of his former teammates at Kansas (he played there between 1981-85) and Buffaloes that he coached, including Spencer Dinwiddie. It was quite a nice ceremony and I was glad to be there to see it.

This was my first college hoops venue in Colorado, there are still 15 states to go. It was also my 138th college hoops venue, with 274 of those left. 

Next Up

Another new state for college hoops as I will visit the Lobos of New Mexico next Wednesday night, then head over to Tempe for the Leafs. Check back for recaps in the New Year, until then Happy Holidays everyone!