ORLANDO -- Michael Frazier II provides instant offense for the top-seeded Gators and opponents have taken note – aggravatingly so for Florida’s prolific outside shooter.
UF’s sophomore sniper, averaging 12.6 points and three treys a game, was mostly a frustrated decoy Thursday afternoon, as Albany clamped down on the nation’s ninth-best three-point shooter (45 percent).
The Great Danes held Frazier to just 1-of-5 from the field, blanketing the sophomore with multiple defenders by utilizing a triangle-and-two defense to freeze out Florida’s lone consistent long distance threat.
Three years ago, former Butler coach Brad Stevens employed a similar strategy when his Bulldogs shocked the Gators in overtime in the Elite Eight, but Florida actually took advantage of the space in the paint on Thursday.
“I think the greatest sign of respect for me as a coach is when somebody says to a player, we're going to take that player out of the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
“It was a game where because of the way they guarded Frazier, because of the way they guarded [Scottie] Wilbekin, there were a lot of other things open, especially inside and around the basket that I thought we took advantage of.”
Although Frazier was visibly upset after the lackluster victory, Donovan cooled the sophomore’s temperature with an anecdote that resonated with the entire team.
“Coach [Donovan] talked to the team after the game and told a story about when he was a player a Providence and they were playing Georgetown,” UF assistant Matt McCall explained.
“Going into the year, Coach was leading the NCAA Tournament in scoring, getting like 30 [points] a game, and Georgetown said, 'Hey we're going to take Billy Donovan out of the game.' They did and he only took two shots but [Providence] won by 18. So you take it as a sign of a team having respect for you. And if they're going to take that much focus on you and take you out of the game, other things for other guys are going to open up.”
Florida was forced to turn to other options, and Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith and others carried the load but Frazier may have a chance to get back on track against Pitt.
While the Panthers play a stingy, tenacious half-court defense, they’re not particularly adept at guarding the three-point line (No. 100 nationally in three-point defense) -- something coach Jamie Dixon is openly concerned about.
"If [Frazier] makes of couple of shots he can break a game open," Dixon said.
"He's their best shooter, best perimeter threat and shoots a high percentage from 3.”
Frazier drilled three early treys against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game, pacing the Gators early. But while the sophomore wants “his,” he’s more concerned with winning.
“[Albany] was determined to not to let [me] beat them, so it opened up things for other guys,” he said. “[Pittsburgh’s] defense is different, so we'll have some open looks in other areas.”
Pitt smoked Colorado on Thursday, drubbing the Buffalos by 29-points in its most dominant (and complete) performance this season. Meanwhile, the Gators struggled for 35 minutes against overmatched Albany.
Will the two teams deviate towards their norm tomorrow?
The Panthers have competed well against ranked teams (three losses by a combined 10 points), but they simply haven’t beaten many (1-4 record).
Despite a 2-15 all-time record against the No. 1 team in the country, they remain confident they can pull off the upset.
“We're playing good basketball right now,” said forward Lamar Patterson, Pitt’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game.
“We'll know if we're playing our best basketball on Saturday. … Right now is the perfect time to be making strides toward the best you can possibly be, and I feel like that's what we're doing as a team.”
“In the South, okay, football is the passion. It's never changing. It's just the way it is. Okay, and I've done nothing since I've been at Florida but try to embrace that because I really believe in the fall there's not a greater place to be than on our campus when there's a football game going on. That being said, I do think that there is an incredible affinity in the state and nationally for the University of Florida, and I always look at, right now, one, the support administratively, the support by fans, what our building is like, what the commitment has been, and I think our commitment and our support has been as good as anywhere in the country, and I think there's a lot of people that are involved with that.”
-- Donovan, on Florida as a football school vs. a basketball school
THIS & THAT
Pitt holds a plus-6.3 rebounding margin, tops in the ACC. … The Panthers, who rarely faced an aggressive press in the ACC, also led the conference in assists per game (15.6) and Donovan called them, “An outstanding passing team.” … After shooting just 50 percent from the charity stripe in the SEC Tournament, Florida was 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) against Albany. … Donovan said freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who scored 10 points in his first-career NCAA Tournament game, is “fine” and has no lingering issues with his toe injury. … Florida’s four seniors are just one win away from setting the school-record for most wins by a single class. … Pitt topped Albany 58-46 earlier this season, allowing just 18 points in the first half. However, the Panthers’ 12-point margin was the same as Florida’s final margin against the Great Danes.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton