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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Tampa’s Frazier will be factor for Gators

ORLANDO — There was the night early this month at South Carolina, a wildfire, when he set both a Florida and an SEC record with an astonishing 11 3-pointers in a blowout Florida win. When he hit No. 11, someone, maybe a South Carolina fan, threw a white towel on the court. A technical foul was called. Michael Frazier II hit both the free throws, too.

Then there’s practice. Like the Gators’ trip to Mississippi this season. Frazier was coming off a wrist injury and wanted to make sure his shot was right. So he rose at 6 in the morning, just five hours before an 11 a.m. tip, to go to the Ole Miss gym, and he was there until he made 270 shots, not took 270 shots ... 270 makes ... and not just any makes, but 270 3-pointers. Florida staff kept track. Frazier made 82 percent of his shots. Then he made five of 10 3-point attempts in the game, another Florida win.

Tampa’s Michael Frazier II is a steely-eyed star, and he’s only a sophomore. He’ll tell you: 270 makes isn’t a big deal next to his tireless work at Plant High School or Montverde Academy, or summers shooting at the YMCA or Harbor Island Athletic Club, with his father rebounding.

“Made a thousand a day,” Frazier said.

What’s 350 to 400 shots a day, before, during and after Gators practices?

A drop in the bucket.

“That’s nothing,” Frazier said. “I remember shooting until I got black blood blisters on my fingers and my shoulder would be on fire. My shoulders would be like, my mom would have to rub my shoulders, because my shoulders would be so tense from shooting the ball.”

Then there was Thursday, the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Frazier in a lock box constructed by Albany, which keyed on him and held him to 1-for-5 shooting, one 3-pointer.

And there’s today, the top-ranked Gators’ game with Pittsburgh. The rough, tough Panthers also are out to deny Frazier the ball, limit his looks. It’s March, and it’s different. But Frazier might be the X-factor today for the Gators to advance. He’s a sophomore surrounded by four senior starters. His composure might be key.

“I would say just not get frustrated, because I probably did get too frustrated (Thursday),” Frazier said. “If they take a guy and stick him on you, there’s not much you can do.”

That was Albany’s plan. Their head coach, Will Brown, had Michael Frazier on the brain while installing the junk defenses he mixed and matched to foil him.

After the game, Brown said, “Well, we just had all sorts of names for him: Ray Allen, Jesus Shuttlesworth. He has the smoothest stroke since Ray Allen. We were determined not to let him get a free look. Unbelievable shooter, arguably as good of a shooter as you’ll find in college basketball.”

When he’s on, Frazier is that good, stupid good, as he was in Columbia, when he nailed 11 of 18 3-point attempts on the way to a career-high 37 points.

“You get in a zone,” Frazier said. “The ball feels good every time it leaves your hand.”

He averages 12.6 points for Florida but is an astounding .457 shooter from beyond the arc. He has made 108 3’s this season, five off the school record, set by Lee Humphrey in both of Florida’s national title seasons.

Frazier isn’t great at creating his own shot, and teams try to prey on that, but even then he can make a difference, creating passing and driving lanes for teammates, or helping out on defense, where he was a liability last season but has grown into that part of his game. Still, it’s his shot that counts. All he needs is a slight opening for his shot, on transition or at any other place in any game.

“It really helps us a lot when he is able to get fired up,” Florida center Patric Young said.

Frazier has a knack for big moments, clutch shots liberally sprinkled throughout Florida’s 27-game winning streak. There was the game at Tennessee, a huge 3 late. Or the trip to Rupp Arena, another key Frazier 3 to help the Gators win. Or Auburn, and Frazier’s 3-pointer that put the Gators ahead in the final minute. Or his 3 that halted a 14-0 Kentucky run in the SEC title game.

Behind those moments there are all the hidden ones, all that practice Frazier puts in. Shooters aren’t born. They’re made.

“It’s just a testament to hard work paying off,” Frazier said.

“You can’t stop everything, but you don’t want to allow him to get going,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said, “If he makes shots, makes a couple of them, it can break a game open.”

Michael Frazier II searching for his zone.

It’s the game within this game.

X-factor marks the spot.

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