Washington is on the verge of its first undefeated home campaign since the 2004-05 season, and a revitalized student section has played a large role in that success. This is life inside the Dawg Pack.
Wednesday, 3 p.m., the northwest gate of Hec Ed Pavilion
The game starts at 7 p.m. The gates open at 5:45.
Jess Quinn is here at 3.
The sophomore fisheries and aquatic sciences major left her last class of the day and came right to the arena, to stand in the snow outside a big brick building for nearly three hours with her friends. They’ll stand here, waiting, laughing, freezing. They’ll watch the players arrive. Eventually, senior guard Matisse Thybulle will personally deliver a tower of Papa John’s pizzas. More standing. More waiting. More snow. More rain.
“I don’t know,” Quinn says with a shrug, wearing a purple sweatshirt and a white hat, when asked why the wait is worth it. “It’s just a way to show our dedication.”
That dedication is a relatively new development. Sophomore Hunter Fitzgerald recalls games not so long ago when there’d be five people in line. But as the Huskies started to win, the line started to grow.
Now, the Dawg Pack — Washington basketball’s official student section — is a mobilized militia of purple shirts and UW propaganda. They come armed with 500 copies of intensely researched scouting reports — appropriately dubbed the “Dawg Pack Dirt” — that details the stats and social media activity of each Oregon State Beaver. They come with posters and bright yellow wigs and faded Markelle Fultz jerseys. They come with cardboard heads of Noah Dickerson, The Rock and Dwight Schrute. They come in waves, eventually forming a line that wraps around the building.
On Friday, they’ll come with tents, camping at 8 p.m. outside the arena prior to the Senior Day game against Oregon the following night. (The forecast, by the way, calls for a cozy high of 45 degrees.)
And if Washington tops the Ducks for the second time this season, the Huskies will also secure their first undefeated home slate since 2004-05.
Something is happening inside Hec Ed Pavilion — and not just on the court.
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
5:58 p.m. UW 0, OSU 0
The gates have opened. Quinn, Fitzgerald and Co. have already sprinted through the doors and to their seats, scratching and clawing for available space like exasperated shoppers on Black Friday.
That’s when they see him.
On the other end of the court, 6-foot-9 forward Isaiah Stewart — a five-star 2019 recruit and a UW verbal commit — sits on the bench, watching his future team warm up. The Dawg Pack springs into action.
A student named Reilly Jordan unzips a green jumpsuit to unveil a white T-shirt, with the words “Dreamville Alert” — a nod to Stewart’s Twitter handle — stenciled in purple ink across the front. He bought the stencils on Amazon last week. The Dawg Pack comes prepared.
Stewart smiles and waves. There may even be a blush.
6:38 p.m. UW 0, 0SU 0
“Here come the Huskies!” the public address announcer declares, and Washington’s players filter out of the tunnel and break into layup lines. On cue, 500-something students leave their seats and stand on top of the bleachers.
It’ll be more than an hour before they sit down again.
6:55 p.m. UW 0, OSU 0
Will Conroy finished with 515 assists in a four-year UW career from 2001 to 2005.
He added a couple more on Wednesday.
Minutes before tip-off, the Husky assistant coach — who was stuffed in a tight black suit — takes a basketball off the rack and turns towards the student section. He promptly tosses the ball into the crowd, laughing as a sea of students fight for the reception. For nearly a full minute, the ball zips back and forth, from the court into the crowd and eventually back to Conroy.
Later, during starting lineup introductions, senior point guard David Crisp will turn to the crowd and woof at the student section. At one point during the game, head coach Mike Hopkins will turn his back to the court entirely to yell encouragement to the rabid crowd.
“They’ve put in so much work to bring the crowds back,” Quinn says of Hopkins and the UW coaching staff.
Adds junior Nick Goodwin: “With the energy and love that coach Hop shows the Dawg Pack, it really makes you feel like you’re making an impact and a difference for the team.”
7:03 p.m. UW 0, OSU 0
The Dawg Pack claims it doesn’t care.
Can’t you hear the introductions? Each time an Oregon State starter is announced, the student section provides the same full-throated Washington welcome.
Guard Stephen Thompson Jr.
Forward Tres Tinkle
Guard Ethan Thompson
And on and on it goes. As one, they turn their backs to the Beavers, holding up newspapers that read in bold black type — you guessed it — “WHO CARES”.
But might it actually be the opposite? Is it possible that the Dawg Pack cares too much? After all, its students spend countless hours compiling the “Dawg Pack Dirt,” canvassing the internet for information on each of Washington’s prospective opponents. They can tell you, for example, that Tinkle once dressed up as Nemo from “Finding Nemo” for Halloween, or that sophomore guard Zach Reichle frequently sports fedoras, or that the third Google search result for head coach Wayne Tinkle is “Wayne Tinkle sweat.”
Maybe they do care. But that’s what it takes to get in the head of the next opponent.
“I think people have gotten smart about it,” Quinn says with a laugh. “I think we’ve become notorious enough where (opposing players) have started setting their Instagram accounts to private.”
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
7:23 p.m. UW 17, OSU 12
During a timeout, $5 Starbucks gift cards drop out of the rafters and parachute to the ground, as UW students reach above their heads and fight for each fleeting promise of free caffeine.
Only in Seattle would Starbucks gift cards literally fall from the sky.
7:33 p.m. UW 26, OSU 17
A personal foul is called on UW senior forward Dominic Green. The Dawg Pack loudly, emphatically, explicitly disagrees. A “Pac-12 refs” chant breaks out in the west bleachers.
Quinn takes off her glasses and physically offers them to the referee.
8:52 p.m. UW 64, OSU 64
The score is tied with 41 seconds left in regulation. Hopkins calls a timeout to set up a play. A Washington fan who apparently can’t bear to watch pulls his purple sweatshirt completely over his head. A fellow fan in a Fultz jersey takes a photo of the scoreboard and posts it to Instagram with the all-caps caption, “PLS GOD”.
“I wonder what my heart rate is,” says a sweating student in the third row.
8:57 p.m. UW 66, OSU 66
With the score again tied and an NCAA Tournament appearance hanging delicately in the balance, the Huskies need a stop to force overtime. The Beavers bring the ball up court with 22 seconds left. The Dawg Pack reaches its highest collective decibel of the night; the bleachers underneath the students’ feet feel ready to fold as they link arms and sway from side to side.
“Making (opposing) teams just shake on the court, it’s amazing,” Quinn says.
Oregon State guard Stephen Thompson Jr. promptly bricks a 3-pointer clumsily off the backboard.
It’s a credit to the Huskies’ defense.
That, and some extra help.
“Especially on that last (defensive) possession, oh man, you can’t hear nothing,” senior Noah Dickerson says after the game. “You can barely even concentrate. It’s so loud. It’s rumbling out there. That was amazing.”
Adds Crisp: “That made all the difference.”
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9:14 p.m. UW 77, OSU 72
Speaking of Crisp, the Huskies’ senior point guard calmly sinks a deep 3-pointer to essentially ice the game at the end of overtime and secure an eventual 81-76 win. He and Dickerson both finish with a team-best 22 points. After celebrating with his teammates, Crisp throws on a headset for a television interview, while the student section showers him with adulation at his back.
Crisp turns to the Dawg Pack, wearing a wide grin. He points to his heart and repeatedly mouths the words, “I love you guys.”
It’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.
“With David Crisp, we can feel how much it matters to him,” Fitzgerald says. “He’s always turning, waving, gesturing, hyping us up. It just makes us feel like we’re part of the game.”
So far, the Dawg Pack has been part of 15 home wins in 15 tries. The lines keep growing, and the wins keep coming.
“The Dawg Pack, again, was off … the … charts,” Hopkins says after the game, with only Oregon standing between UW and a perfect home record. “I mean, you have no idea how big that is, especially in a game like this, where it’s a one- or two-possession game, where you’ve got to get a stop. It gives you extra energy.
“I’m telling you, it’s big-time. It was big-time tonight.”