For many basketball teams, summoning the backups at crunch time is somewhat akin to waving the white flag.
The Colorado Buffaloes are not one of those teams.
One of the most consistent aspects of a CU squad that will take a 17-5 mark into Thursday’s battle at No. 16 Oregon has been the play of the team’s reserves. After turning in a huge 45-point effort in the Buffs’ victory against the Ducks on Jan. 17, CU’s bench players will be counted on for a similarly productive effort with first place on the line in the Pac-12 Conference.
“It sure is nice,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “No. 1, you have Tory Miller who comes in and brings great energy in the frontcourt. So if you have foul trouble, you feel like you can work through that in the frontcourt. Then you have a guy like Xavier Talton and Thomas (Akyazili) in the backcourt, and you have one of those wings.
“It’s a nice feeling that every time you substitute you’re not really substituting weakness. In many cases, we’ve substituted a strength this year.”
Often it has been one of the reserves who has powered game-turning runs for the Buffs. And that spark often arrives from different sources.
While Talton and Akyazili aren’t shooting nearly as well as the .411 mark from the field and .492 mark from 3-point range compiled by starting point guard Dom Collier, their combined assists-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (77 total assists, 40 turnovers) is a figure any coach will gladly take off the bench. Talton also provides a dependable option when CU is trying to hold late leads, having hit 25-of-27 free throws this season.
Miller, the lone big man off the bench, has enjoyed a surge of late, averaging 5.9 rebounds over the past seven games. Also shooting at a .494 clip, the sophomore appears to be making rapid strides and has displayed an ability to shoulder the load on the occasions starting forwards Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon encounter early foul trouble.
“It’s nice to have Tory, a very capable big, come in and play good minutes. He’s been big-time this year,” Scott said. “Different guys are hot on different nights. On nights maybe the starters don’t have it, someone off the bench can come in and make a huge impact.”
Of course, bolstering the bench’s overall production is the fact one of the rotating starters among George King, Josh Fortune, and Tre’Shaun Fletcher is coming off the bench every night. Each one of those players has provided an electric scoring punch at one time or another similar to the 23-point eruption King turned in off the bench in last week’s win against Stanford.
“That’s one of the strengths of our team is that we are so deep,” Talton said. “We go eight-nine deep, and we play quite a bit of minutes as well. Coming in and sparking off a couple runs and keeping the other team from scoring, I think that’s major for us be able to key in on.”