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Pit Stop: ACU returns to Lobos’ hoops haven

Pit color pic
This is University Arena, as The Pit looked about the time when it first opened in 1966 with a game between ACU and the University of New Mexico.
Dr. David Wray (’67) didn’t score the most famous two points in the history of the University of New Mexico’s legendary basketball arena known as The Pit. That distinction belongs, now and forever, to Lorenzo Charles whose unintentional alley oop dunk at the buzzer led North Carolina State University and fiery coach Jim Valvano to an epic upset over the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA Tournament championship game.
Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats
Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats
But Wray, a longtime bible professor at Abilene Christian University and currently the director of its annual Summit, did score the first two.
Or so he’s told.
“I was out there (Albuquerque) speaking at a church,” Wray recalls with a chuckle, “and a guy said, ‘I’m the sports information director at University of New Mexico and you scored the first two points (at The Pit).’ I didn’t remember.”
Dr. David Wray
Dr. David Wray
The Pit opened Dec. 1, 1966, with the Lobos hosting Wray’s Wildcats in that first game. This Wednesday, on the eve of the building’s 50th anniversary, ACU will be back to take on UNM for the first time since a 2006 exhibition game to mark the 40-year celebration of what has been one of college basketball’s most raucous and revered venues.
Originally known as University Arena, UNM students immediately began calling it The Pit because the playing surface sits 37 feet below street level. ACU got in on the ground floor as part of a two-game road trip the likes of which they may never see again. It began with the game against the No. 6-ranked Lobos and ended at the home of the defending NCAA champion University of Texas at El Paso Miners, who were No. 2 in the nation when the Wildcats arrived off a fine season of their own.
“We went out there confident,” Wray recollects, “because we’d been to the (small college) national tournament the year before. We’d beaten Oklahoma State University and taken on the Air Force Academy, so I don’t remember being intimidated or any talk about it being the first game in the new arena. What I do remember was how far it was from the dressing room down to the floor because it’s all underground.”
The Lobos dug a figurative hole when the game began, falling behind ACU and the offensive system head coach Dee Nutt (’50) employed known as California.
Wray provided a powerful presence under the basket for the Wildcats.
Wray provided a powerful scoring and rebounding presence under the basket for the Wildcats.
“We had a very disciplined offense,” says Wray, who was the only senior on that 1966-67 team. “We ran a lot of screens under the basket. You’d just be wide open, so it’s not surprising that I or one of the other forwards would’ve scored the first two points. It was amazing how we controlled the game in the first half.”
Indeed, ACU took a 27-25 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the Lobos, led by coach Bob King, whose success in turning around UNM’s moribund basketball program when he arrived in 1962 fueled the interest in and need for the new arena, rebounded in the second half to post an 11-point victory that prompted the Albuquerque Journal newspaper to write the next morning, “12,020 Watch NM Five Sweat.”    
Wray finished with 19 points, tying him with the Lobos’ all-America forward Mel Daniels for game-high honors. The Wildcats got 12 points from hotshot John Ray Godfrey (’68), who helped open ACU basketball’s new digs, Moody Coliseum, the following season by scoring 41 points, a home-court record that stood for nearly a quarter century.
Wray’s recollections of that night are more general than specific. Someone gave him a program from that first game, though at the moment he isn’t sure where it is. And his place in The Pit’s record book brings him no particular measure of pride.
“Basketball was really critical to me back in those days,” he says. “It’s nice, but you kind of leave all that behind.”
From The Pit to Summit, Wray rose within ACU’s College of Biblical Studies to hold a variety of influential positions, including his current one. What he has held on to from his days as a player is a deep appreciation for those with whom he took the court.
“We had phenomenal guys,” he says fondly. “Most have gone on to be elders and church leaders. We’ve been lifelong friends.”
Dee Nutt coached Abilene Christian the season before to the national tournament.
The season before, Dee Nutt coached Abilene Christian to the national tournament.