For years, shooting crucial free throws late in the second half was a pretty zen experience for opposing teams at the Thomas & Mack Center. Instead of being distracted by a frenzied student section, Rebels foes got to shoot against an inert backdrop of laptop computers.
That’s because the media was housed in the section behind the opposing team’s basket, and professional journalists at work are not apt to get up and cheer for or against teams they’re covering. That’s a job better left to diehard fans, and that’s exactly what UNLV has in mind this season, as a bit of remodeling at the Mack has moved the student section behind the visiting basket.
While the media will be relocated to the top of the lower bowl, the floor-level seats behind the baseline will be the new home of the UNLV band and part of “The Rebellion,” the student-led cheering section responsible for signs, effigies and other organized mayhem in the stands.
The hope is that increased volume at that end of the court will make it more difficult for the Rebels’ rivals to focus with the game on the line.
Junior point guard Amauri Hardy believes fans can impact the game and endorsed the new layout.
“That definitely plays a role when it comes down to free throws, when it comes down to them trying to run their plays,” Hardy said. “We’ve got our fans down there screaming, versus down [at the other end] where it’s kind of hard to get in their minds or get in their heads. It helps.”
UNLV’s students and band were previously located behind the second-half home basket. Now they’ll be behind both baskets, and the onus will be on the school’s biggest fans to provide a home-court advantage.
Hardy pointed to New Mexico’s home arena, “The Pit,” as one of the most difficult places to play because of the intensity — and proximity — of the Lobos’ student section.
“As soon as you walk in the gym, you’re stretching, you’ve got people screaming all in your face, fans antagonizing you, talking about your stats or something like that, your past games,” Hardy said. “That’s something we can implement right here going into the second half, people antagonizing the other players, trying to get in their heads.”
UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger hasn’t yet had a chance to experience a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center at its most boisterous, but he thinks the new student sections will help add to the game-night atmosphere.
“Looking back to different environments that I’ve been a part of, I feel like it’s been very impactful when the student sections are behind the baskets,” Otzelberger said, “because it does give you that added energy, enthusiasm. Some of the signs, some of the goofy things they’re doing for free throws, I think that gives those students an opportunity to be right on the floor and enjoy that college experience and get a little crazy at the end of the game. I think it’s a good thing and I think it’ll be something that helps us generate energy throughout the season.”