By ALAN SNEL
The Runnin’ Rebels lost in overtime. But a packed Mack was back and the emotional charge in the air in the UNLV arena made the night a financial winner for the university.
“It was a sign of how far the program has come,” UNLV President Len Jessup told LVSportsBiz.com after Arizona beat UNLV, 91-88, in overtime at an electric Thomas and Mack Center tonight.
Attendance was 14,579 in the arena where capacity is about 18,000.
Thomas & Mack Center rocked with red-clad Reb fans, even if the basketball team dropped its second straight overtime game.
It was a financial winner for the university.
“It’s a positive. We’re trending toward meeting our basketball budget,” UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois said as she was standing with Jessup courtside after the game.
The night — it was a back to the future feel for oldtime Rebel hoops fans — was ideal for UNLV athletics from the standpoint of hosting recruits in football. The recruits asked the athletic director if the place was always so packed and passionate and Reed-Francois said she told them, “Of course it is.”
After the game, basketball coach Marvin Menzies told reporters that a “silver lining” of the evening was the packed gym and he thought players responded to the packed house. Menzies even quipped that the team is up 10 points after the pyrotechnics that accompany the line-up introduction just from the crowd passion and community spirit of a packed Mack.
With Arizona in the house, UNLV sophomore Mason Molina of the The Rebellion student section was ready.
He had a three-foot-tall Guy Fieri head at his disposal to distract Arizona players who will shoot free throws.
UNLV officials were bracing for the season’s biggest crowd tonight its 6-1 Runnin’ Rebels hosted an Arizona team that was highly ranked but dropped in the national rankings after losing three games already.
Reed-Francois expected 14,000 fans, though another chunk of the crowd was also going to be wearing red for Arizona. An eyeball estimate looked like the crowd was around the 15,000 mark.
“We travel well,” Arizona fan Felix Durazo, of Tucson, told LVSportsBiz.com an hour before tip-off. “We flew in from Phoenix and the plan was filled with Arizona fans.”
UNLV tried to stir up students to attend by staging a “tailgate” party behind the Tark Statue in front of the arena. It looked as if a few hundred students stopped by to pick up the free T-shirts, pizza and soda. Athletes from the soccer, track and field, swimming and softball teams also joined the tailgate as a DJ played a jam.
“It’s a good idea,” said UNLV sophomore Chana Steinberg. Though, she observed some students were coming to pick up the free UNLV shirt and other freebies. She said she went online to get a free ticket to the game.
Steinberg was with friend Dayna Ballenberg, who said UNLV is a commuter school and that inhibits students from attending games. “I’m from Henderson and it’s a 30-minute drive,” Ballenberg said.
If UNLV had won the game, students would have been allowed to storm the court, an usher said. It happened before. It didn’t happen this time, though.
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com