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Gators' Michael Frazier adjusts to being focus of defense

GAINESVILLE — If you want to measure how far Florida guard Michael Frazier has come since he was in the NCAA Tournament last season, just turn on your television and listen to the analysts break down the Gators.

As a freshman last season, he made 2 of 8 3-pointers in the tournament. Now, inevitably, Frazier — and more important his deadly 3-point shooting — have become an integral part of the conversation.

The consensus is that if Frazier isn't shooting lights-out, that's trouble for Florida. It's an opinion based on Frazier's record-setting season of 117 3-pointers, which included a career-best 37-point game late in the regular season in which he hit 11 from beyond the arc.

Frazier has hit 10 3s in four NCAA Tournament games and was 7-of-13 in this past weekend's South Region in Memphis. Yet the perception is that he's a bit off his game.

"I'm not really paying attention to" the talk about his game, said Frazier, who's from Tampa. "I'm worried about our team and what we need to do to win. What people say doesn't really matter."

Talk of Frazier's shot and its value to the Gators stems from the team's tournament opener against Albany, where the No. 1 overall seed struggled and Frazier went 1-of-6 from the field and 1-of-4 from beyond the arc — his second-worst game of the season (he went 0-for-2 vs. Auburn).

Albany coach Will Brown said after the game that containing Frazier was a key element in his team's scouting report, a game plan other teams have adopted. Florida coach Billy Donovan said that strategy was not unexpected, and it hasn't completely hampered the Gators.

"Would I like Michael Frazier to knock down five, six, seven 3s a game?" Donovan said. "That would be great for us. … But sometimes the defense has something to do with that. If they are taking him away, the maturity thing, we need to understand what else is open. Sometimes that is the greatest sign of respect for a player, is when they try to take you out of the game. Some teams tried to do that to Michael, but we've still been able to move on and advance by doing different things."

Frazier is 10-of-26 from 3-point range in the tourney (a team-best 38.5 percent). He was 5-of-8 vs. UCLA in the region semifinal, 2-of-5 vs. Dayton in the region final. He and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin are a combined 19-of-50 in the tournament; the rest of the team is 2-of-18.

The Gators play Connecticut on Saturday night in the Final Four in a rematch of a Dec. 2 game in which Frazier was 1-of-3 with seven points. In that game, UF tied its second-fewest 3-pointers made this season (3) and its fewest attempts (9). UConn was 11-of-24 — the most 3-pointers Florida has given up all season.

Which is why so many believe Frazier's performance could be critical.

Frazier's teammates said he constantly works at his 3-point shooting but insist his value is much greater.

"He's just gotten so much better on defense," Wilbekin said. "And he continues to work on his jump shot, just as much as last year. That's just who he is."

And about that sign of respect from opponents Donovan has referred to, making Frazier the focus? Well, he'll live with that, too.

"I guess if they want to do that, then I understand it opens up other things for my teammates, it opens up the floor," Frazier said. "It allows us to have better spacing so we can do other things on offense. I worked really hard in the summer to try to add other things to my game. I'll just take what the defense gives me."

The Gators hope that's a few more 3-pointers.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Shot missing

Michael Frazier's 3-point shooting was a big weapon for Florida down the stretch. It has been less of a factor during the NCAA Tournament. His March breakdown this season:

REGULAR SEASON

Date Opponent 3-pointers pct. Points
March 1 LSU 4-of-6 .667 14
March 4 South Carolina 11-of-18 .611 37
March 8 Kentucky 3-of-7 .429 9
March 14 Missouri 5-of-7 .714 15
March 15 Tennessee 1-of-2 .500 7
March 16 Kentucky 4-of-6 .667 14
Totals 28-of-46 .609 96 (16 ppg)

NCAA Tournament

March 20 Albany 1-of-4 .250 3
March 22 Pittsburgh 2-of-9 .222 10
March 27 UCLA 5-of-8 .625 19
March 29 Dayton 2-of-5 .400 10
Totals 10-of-26 .385 42 (10.5 ppg)


Final Four

at Arlington, Texas

Saturday's semifinals (TV: TBS)

No. 1 Florida (36-2) vs. No. 7 Connecticut (30-8), 6:09

No. 2 Wisconsin (30-7) vs. No. 8 Kentucky (28-10), 8:50

Gators' Michael Frazier adjusts to being focus of defense 04/02/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 10:30pm]
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