Big crowds, ‘Big Dance’ dreams return to UW basketball

The University of Washington Dawg Pack. Alaska Airlines Arena (KOMO Newsradio).

Alaska Airlines Arena was packed on a Sunday night and the Dawg Pack student section was rocking with every Matisse Thybulle steal and Naz Carter alley-oop dunk. After several lackluster seasons Washington’s resurgent men’s basketball team is becoming a hot Seattle sports ticket.

Many Dawg fans and college hoop bracket experts are mentioning the Huskies as a potential NCAA tournament team. In case you’ve lost track, Washington’s last appearance in the NCAA basketball “Big Dance” was 2011. Led by future NBA players Isaiah Thomas and Terrence Ross, UW pushed powerful North Carolina before bowing out in the second round.

Yes, Washington State Cougar fans helped boost attendance Sunday for the second rival game of the season, but Hec Ed Pavillion was buzzing with anticipation and became an intimidating place against the visitors from Pullman. Junior guard Matisse led Washington’s convincing 80-62 victory over WSU with 18 points, feeding off the home crowd energy.

“The most gratifying thing was to see all the fans coming back, ” said Thybulle in a post-game news conference. “It’s been more than a couple years since we’ve had sell-out games and a consistently high turnout. If we can keep having that, then our season will keep getting stronger.”

U-Dub’s brand of basketball is also getting better. They’re starting to turn a sticky 2-3 zone defense into fast-break points. Crisp passing and improved spacing are leading to quality shots.

Did the returning players like junior forward Noah Dickerson see a 15 and 6 record and third place standing in the Pac-12 under a new head coach and system?

“No! Statistically speaking it says new coaches don’t win until after a little grace period and things like that. We figured out what we needed to do and we do it,” replied Dickerson to Washington’s success formula.

First year UW head coach Mike Hopkins was used to 35,000 fans cheering for Syracuse men’s basketball in the Carrier Dome where he played and was assistant coach at that college. His vision of Alaska Airlines Arena being a Husky’s home court advantage is starting to take shape.

The Dawgs will need plenty of support this week against talented 25-th ranked Arizona State and No. 9 Arizona. Who knows? With a victory over the Sun Devils or Wildcats, Washington might even show up in the national polls and bolster their resume for March Madness consideration.

KOMO basketball line-up

KOMO newsradio am 1000/ fm 97.7 has a full week of Husky basketball coverage. The coaches show with Mike Hopkins and UW women’s bench boss Jody Wynn can be heard Tuesday night immediately after the President’s State of the Union speech.

Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. is the Dawghouse show with interviews from coaches, players and opponents.

Thursday evening the Huskies host Arizona State at 8 p.m. Tony Castricone and Jason Hamilton start pre-game coverage at 7:30. The same pair of announcers describe Arizona and Washington at 7 p.m. Saturday.