The Pit awaits

The Runnin’ Utes will make a quick turnaround after knocking off Wyoming on Wednesday. They head to Albuquerque this weekend for a matinee against New Mexico with tip-off at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.

With the road-win monkey finally off their backs, the Utes head out of the fire and into The Pit. While New Mexico (12-9, 3-5 MWC) hasn’t drawn crowds as big this season as in most years, the Utes (10-9, 3-5 MWC) know that winning in Albuquerque is no easy task.

“It’s definitely a difficult place to win,” senior center Chris Jackson said. “We haven’t won there since I was a redshirt. It will probably be a tough game down there.”

The Pit, properly known as University Arena, seats 18,018 and was named the 13th-best sporting venue in the world by Sports Illustrated. It is known for a student section that is up close to the court.

Last year’s visit to Albuquerque gave the Utes their only regular-season conference blemish, a 65-54 setback that broke an 18-game Ute winning streak and prompted New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to declare a state holiday.

With a young team, including many players who will be experiencing The Pit’s unique atmosphere for the first time, Ute coach Ray Giacoletti is planning for the actual game, rather than focusing on preparing the squad for the crowd.

“We really haven’t even addressed it,” Giacoletti said. “We just talk about what we have to do against them to be successful.”

While the task may appear daunting, the Utes have already had success against the Lobos this season. In both teams’ conference opener Jan. 4, the Utes pulled away in the second half to knock off New Mexico 64-49, holding the Lobos to a mere 32.7 percent shooting from the field.

With their first conference road win under their belt and the knowledge that they already have beaten the Lobos once already, the Utes feel they have the confidence necessary to escape The Pit with a win Saturday.

“Hopefully we’re feeling good about ourselves, and hopefully we understand how to turn the corner here a little bit,” Giacoletti said.

Following the trip to New Mexico, the Utes return home for a battle with archrival BYU on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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