When one thinks of killer basketball trios, they think of the Celtics’ Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett; the Spurs’ Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan; and at the college level, it’s usually the big name schools that that possess such talent, like North Carolina did in their title run last year with Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough.
Believe it or not, it may be time to add Colorado’s triumvirate to that list.
Junior guard Cory Higgins, freshman guard Alec Burks, and junior forward Marcus Relphorde have become CU’s version of “The Three Amigos,” and when all are healthy and playing well, it’s as good a threesome as it gets. Just ask Oklahoma.
The trio combined for 48 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists in Colorado’s 77-67 win over Oklahoma on Wednesday night. Perhaps most importantly, the three combined for only five turnovers, a vast improvement from the team’s 24 turnover debacle at Kansas State over the weekend.
Relphorde, who had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his return from knee tendinitis that sidelined him against K-State, proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Sooners. Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel echoed his team’s frustration in his post-game comments.
“We really didn’t have anyone to guard [Relphorde] tonight,” Capel said.
Capel said, “he is perfect for their system because he is big and strong enough and tough enough where he can guard a four (power forward), but he is a difficult matchup (on offense) at times for (an opponent’s) fours.”
Higgins and Burks provided their usual offensive fireworks, leading the team in scoring with 18 and 17, respectively. It’s gotten to the point where it’s expected of the backcourt duo to carry the load for the Buffaloes, but when you add Relphorde to the mix, the team becomes a completely new monster entirely.
“When everybody is healthy, we’re pretty tough to guard and there is going to be a matchup problem somewhere,” Higgins said after the game. “They’re not going to be able to handle all three of us so it just makes the game so much easier.”
Trying to contain Colorado’s terrific trio is hard enough, but not knowing who is going to take the shot makes it even harder on opposing defenses. The Buffs did a good job of moving the ball around, making the extra pass, and not settling for contested shots. Finding the open man was key to the team’s victory, especially down the stretch.
After the Sooners had closed CU’s lead to four with 10:10 remaining, Relphorde hit a deep three off a kick-out from Dwight Thorne to up the lead back to seven. After a Higgins’ three point play, Relphorde returned the favor by finding a cutting Thorne for one of his six assists.
And at the four minute mark of the game, Higgins showed some unselfish play on his own part, hitting a wide open Burks in the corner with a no-look pass instead of settling for a contested drive for another Colorado 1-2-3. The freshman Burks, who went 5-for-6 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free throw line, recognizes the importance of a balanced scoring attack.
“We try to share the ball and get everybody involved in the game,” Burks said. “When you do that, you win games, and you saw that tonight.”
It was clear from the get-go the Buffs wanted to be the aggressor, and they pushed the tempo to try and wear Oklahoma’s big men. Using the mile-high altitude as a weapon, the Buffs stretched their lead to double-digits at multiple points in the game, only to see the Sooners climb back in it.
When the Sooners closed the margin to five, 69-64, with 2:20 to play, head coach Jeff Bzdelik called a timeout to try and recollect his troops. His message was simple.
“During the timeouts we talked about it a couple of times. Whose will is greater? Whose passion is greater? Whose desire is greater? We need to just get those loose balls and play with that little extra effort,” Bzdelik said.
His players responded, and the Buffs were able to close out their opponent for their third Big 12 win and perhaps gain a little confidence heading into a tough back-to-back road gauntlet of division rivals Kansas and Missouri.
Those games were the last things on the players’ minds following the big win, and the ear-to-ear smiles on all three of Colorado’s stars revealed just how relieved and excited they were about the victory.
When asked if his near triple-double would have been the first of his career, the usually subdued Relphorde showed his funny side with his response.
“Um, nah. At least not when it really mattered,” Relphorde said.
Contact CU-Independent Staff Writer David Starcer at David.email@example.com.