Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

For Gators, Michael Frazier's 3s may be key

ORLANDO

This time, maybe the other team will forget about him.

This time, maybe Michael Frazier will stand 20 feet from the basket, and this time, maybe he will cock his wrist as if it were poetry, and this time, maybe he'll fill his teammates with energy and hope.

This time, maybe Frazier will restore a little order to the seedings.

Frankly, the University of Florida could use the juice.

This is the time for instant offense. For the Gators, there is little doubt about it. Today, they play the underseeded Pitt Panthers, and the game promises to be close, physical and intense.

What better time, then, for Frazier to hit two or three big shots along the way? What better time for him to take Pitt back to Harbour Island? What better time for him to make his mark?

On Thursday, it should be noted, Frazier did not. Playing against No. 16 seed Albany's triangle-and-two defense, he hit 1 of 5 shots. Pretty much, he was a bystander in the game.

This time, he cannot be.

This time, Frazier has to make a difference.

He is the Gators' sniper. When Frazier is in rhythm, no one changes the scoreboard faster. No one can spark quicker runs. No one provides faster points. No one completes the Gators quite the way of Frazier, whose 45.5 percentage led the SEC in 3-point shooting.

Ask the Great Danes, who went into Thursday's game with the express purpose of shutting down Frazier. Albany spent the night slow-dancing with Frazier to the point where they were outscored 38-12 in the paint. Yes, they stopped Frazier, but they could only slow down the Gators.

"We had all sorts of names for him," Albany coach Will Brown said. "Ray Allen. Jesus Shuttlesworth. He has the smoothest stroke since Ray Allen. We were determined not to let him get a free look. He's an unbelievable shooter, arguably as good as you'll find in college basketball. We were not going to let Frazier beat us."

Oh, Frazier can do that. Ask South Carolina, where he hit 11 3-pointers in a game. Ask seven other opponents, where he had at least five 3s. For the record, Florida is 7-1 in those games.

That makes today's game against Pitt huge for Frazier and for the Gators. To be honest, it's a mystery why Pitt came into this tournament as a No. 9 seed. This year, the Panthers lost to Cincinnati by a point, to Syracuse by five, to Duke by 15, to Virginia by three, to Syracuse again by two, to North Carolina by four, to FSU by five and to N.C. State by seven. In the ACC tournament, Pitt lost to top seed Virginia by three again.

In other words, the Panthers can play.

Can they play with Florida? We'll see.

Frazier, who played at Plant High before finishing at Montverde Academy in Lake County, about 90 minutes north of his hometown, might have something to say about that. He expects Pitt to guard him differently than Albany did. That means there will be chances.

For Frazier, that has always been enough. He remembers the summer days when his father would take him to the YMCA or to the Harbour Island Athletic Club, where he would shoot until he made 350 or 400 shots. Once, he remembers, he made 1,000.

"I remember having black blood blisters on my fingers from shooting," he said. "My shoulder was on fire. My mother had to rub my shoulders because they were so stiff."

All in all, it beat an afternoon where he made only one shot.

"I have to work on my frustration," Frazier said. "I got more frustrated than I should have. I have to remember that I'm helping my team even if I'm not shooting or scoring. If a guy is on me all the time, it opens up driving lanes."

Over the course of the season, yes, Florida has also won on those nights when Frazier has been a decoy. But the Gators seem complete when Frazier is hitting shots. They seem more dangerous.

"When he's open, it opens up a lot of us, as well, because now those guys have to really account for him," center Patric Young said. "When we can find him knocking them down with confidence, balls going down, we feel as though it gives us energy for all facets of the court, offensive side, defensive side. We know that they are going to have to make extra rotations trying to look out for this guy, It just really helps us a lot when he is able to get fired up."

Will that happen today? Maybe. But Pitt, too, is aware of Frazier's shooting ability. The Panthers will try to slow him, too.

"He's a big part of their offense, obviously, because of his shooting ability," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's their best shooter, best perimeter threat and shoots a high percentage from 3. We're aware of that. If he makes of couple of shots, he can break a game open."

Or, perhaps, he can close one out.

Frazier is asked about hitting a last-second shot, and he smiles slightly, as if considering the arch of the shot and the snap of the net.

"Maybe," he says, "it won't come to that."

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