BOULDER, Colo. — No current player on Washington’s basketball team was even alive when the movie ‘Braveheart’ came out in May 1995. Fortunately for the Huskies, the film is one of assistant coach Will Conroy’s all-time favorites.
Conroy, after UW lost Thursday at Utah, felt the team needed fight and motivation. He had the Huskies watch the first half of ‘Braveheart’ in the team hotel Friday evening in Boulder. They woke up Saturday morning and resumed the rest of the three-hour war epic. Hours later, UW (14-6, 4-3 Pac-12 Conference) put together one of its strongest games of the season with a 72-62 win over Colorado at the Coors Event Center.
“I just felt like we challenged the guys to fight,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said after beating the Buffaloes. “You’ll hear Dominic Green screaming out ‘For Scotland!’ in the film room in the morning.”
Hopkins’ team hadn’t lost consecutive games since November when they played Providence and Virginia Tech in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Those were the Huskies’ third and fourth regular-season contests under their first-year coach.
Fast forward to January. UW lost to Stanford at the Alaska Airlines Arena and dropped a second straight game against Utah, which had been on a four-game losing streak.
The Utes had more rebounds, won more loose balls, found better shots and only allowed the Huskies to hold the lead for 41 seconds.
“Honestly, it sounds a little bit corny,” junior guard Matisse Thybulle said. “We lost some of our fight and the hunger we were bringing to the early games when we were playing well.”
Hopkins said the team talked about having that fight Friday, a day before facing Colorado.
It led to Conroy asking if he could show the team ‘Braveheart’ as a source of motivation.
The film, which was directed by and starred Mel Gibson, tells the story of Sir William Wallace. Wallace led Scotland in the kingdom’s first war for independence against King Edward I and England.
‘Braveheart’ became one of the most iconic films of the 1990s and won five Academy Awards in the process.
“A lot of guys hadn’t seen it,” said Thybulle. “We started it (Friday). I’m sure as you know, it was a super-long movie. We watched it last night and (Saturday) morning. It has us pumped up, really.”
UW opened by shooting 2-for-11 but never appeared to be visibility frustrated. Trailing 18-9, Hopkins called a timeout with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half.
It led to Washington closing out the opening frame on a 27-9 run and pulling off a few other things in the process compared to what happened against Utah.
The Huskies only had 38 rebounds in their loss to the Utes. Against the Buffaloes? They pulled down 31 in the first half and finished the game with 50 boards. Thybulle was one of four players who grabbed more than eight rebounds.
Colorado, once down by 13, came within seven points twice but could never climb back into the game.
“When you get out-rebounded by 16 in your own building, something is wrong,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle told local reporters after the game. “We got out-toughed, we got punked and we got manhandled. You name the adjective you want to name. All those fit today.”
UW’s response to winning?
Neither Conroy, Hopkins or anyone else on the team sported blue warpaint and a kilt while riding around on a horse like Gibson did when he gave one of the most famous speeches in movie history.
But Green, per UW, did yell out “Freedom!” in the locker room after the win.
Thybulle said it was the first time either as a AAU, high school or college basketball player he’s ever had a coaching staff use a movie as a motivational tactic.
“It just goes to show how much our coaches care,” said Thybulle, who scored 18 points and 10 rebounds. “‘Braveheart’ has nothing to do with basketball and it really has to do with just us.”
Thybulle, who grew up in Issaquah, said watching the movie did one of two things.
For one, it gave the team insight into seeing how motivated Wallace was against England.
It also gave the Huskies’ coaches and players a chance to bond in the process.
“(Wallace and the Scots) were fighting for something that was bigger than themselves and they were willing to die for it,” Hopkins said. “As a coach, you want your players to play for something bigger than themselves: That’s the university and for each one of their teammates.”
As it stands, the Huskies could possibly be playing for a chance at the NCAA Tournament.
ESPN, on Monday, has the Huskies in the ‘First Four Out’ of its latest bracket predictions. CBS, on the other hand, states the Huskies be in the ‘Last Four In.’
Seven of UW’s remaining 11 regular season games are at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies, should they finish strong, could land in the tournament for the first time since 2010-11.
“Listen, you’ve always talked about it in this league and what I’ve heard is you gotta split on the road and you gotta take care of home,” Hopkins said. “To be able to win three away from home is a heck of an accomplishment for this team … we’re a one-game-at-a-time team with our focus.
“To not play well at Utah … the way that they responded was the most important thing because that’s all about character.”