Notebook: Frazier finds his stroke

As the only returning starter this year, the weight of expectation was weighing on guard Michael Frazier.

The junior came into Monday’s game with Yale shooting 36.4 percent (16-44) from behind the 3-point line. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Frazier shot 46.8 and 44.7 percent from behind the 3-point line, respectively.

With Florida legend and 3-point specialist Lee Humphrey sitting in the stands, Frazier found his form on Monday in the O’Connell Center. He started out missing his first two attempts from long range but ended the game making four of his last five attempts.

The problem started with his mentality. Frazier has always been hard on himself, and when the shots weren’t falling for him in the last two years, he would dwell on it and impact the next shot.

This year, it has been a different struggle.

Frazier is feeling the pressure to perform and make up for the lots scoring after the departure of four senior starters last year. When time goes by that he doesn’t take a shot, sometimes he feels like he’s letting his teammates down and needs to start letting it fly. The extra emphasis for opposing teams to guard it has made it tougher for those shots to come.

“If you keep yourself focused and engaged in the game, he can get three shots in a minute,” Billy Donovan said about Michael Frazier. “A lot of things can happen if he puts himself in position. For a large part of him, he had been playing the game of keeping track of (the last time he shot).

“That’s not who he is as a player. When he gets his legs under him, gets room and gets a crack, I feel very confident in him shooting. But he can get stressed about that.”

Frazier now has at least one 3-pointer in 30 straight games. He's the fourth player in Florida history to have a streak of at least 30 games, joining Lee Humphrey (39), Kenny Boynton (34) and Brett Nelson (33).

Donovan said his need for Frazier to run the floor is similar to what he preaches to the big men on the team. It doesn’t always work to get them a touch in position to score, but it’s about the discipline to show the effort.

“It may not find him, but he has got to stay with it,” Donovan said. “That’s his challenge as a player right now for this year’s team. Last year, he just moved and played off the other guys, they found him and it was easy. Now it’s a lot more challenging. We don’t need him to score. We need him to take good shots, open shots. What it does is it creates spacing and opportunities for other guys.

“Sometimes when you’re a really good shooter, it’s not you that benefits. It’s the other guys around you that benefit because of the spacing.”

WALKER SHINES AGAIN: On paper, Chris Walker should have dominated against Yale. His size and athleticism provided him an advantage in the paint against the smaller Bulldogs, but it was still good news for Florida when he had a good game.

Walker played 21 minutes off the bench and scored a career-high 13 points while pulling down six rebounds with two blocked shots. He played well off the bench against Kansas and continues to improve in every game.

After a difficult trip to the Bahmas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Walker is starting to earn the trust of the coaching staff.

“In a lot of those games early on for Chris, he got exposed,” Donovan said. “He really got exposed, especially in the Bahamas. It’s not that he got exposed because he isn’t a good player, it’s because he didn’t have the intensity you need to play at. The last two games, he’s playing at a really high intensity level.”

The intensity had to be raised in practice for Walker. It’s nothing new for a big man to learn under Donovan. Patric Young had to learn the same lesson, needing to run the floor and play more active to give the Gators what they need. Walker has more athleticism than Young and can impact the game in more ways with his speed and long arms, making it even more important that he run the floor.

Monday was another step in showing that he’s starting to understand it.

“We’ve tried to simplify things for him to get him engaged in what he can do well,” Donovan said. “He’s along the baseline, guys are finding him and he’s rebounding the ball. This is the hardest he has played -- this past week to 10 days in practice -- since he has been here. Maybe the competition we’ve played against has given him a (realization of), “wow, I need to pick it up and play another level.” He has to be able to extend himself and push himself in practice. He’s seeing that he has to push through and continue to work.”

LEARNING THROUGH PRACTICE: The intensity issues weren’t limited to Walker. Since the Gators returned from the Bahamas, Donovan and the Florida coaching staff have tried to make practice as difficult as possible “physically, mentally and emotionally.” It looked like it paid off during Florida’s 85-47 win over Yale.

“A lot of guys want to play on their own terms,” Donovan said. “What I mean by that is they want to play at their own intensity rate and they take the temperature and pulse of the game of how hard they need to compete, instead of being responsible and accountable for their own level of intensity and competitiveness.”

The practices were aimed at making the team understand how hard it needed to work through the rest of the year to get where it wanted to be. Last year’s team did it and made it to the Final Four. The ceiling for this group might not be as high, but their work ethic and intensity will determine how the rest of the season goes.

“This team has a journey in front of it,” Donovan said. “Where it ends, whether it’s postseason play or not postseason play, we have to earn our way.”

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