Frazier changing as Gators face Alabama

Saturday’s breakout game at Ole Miss signaled changes for Michael Frazier that Florida coach Billy Donovan has been waiting to see.

The junior guard didn’t come into the season with the correct mindset.

The only returning starter from last year’s Final Four team, missed shots wore Frazier down early in the season. They stayed on his mind for multiple possessions and forced him to get out of position on defense and crept into the next offensive possession. The pressure to be the team’s leader, on the court and off it, forced Frazier to get off to a slow start this season.

He had some good games along the way -- scoring 22 points against Jacksonville and 21 points against Louisiana-Monroe -- but it wasn’t until Saturday that Billy Donovan saw a player starting to grow out of his slump. A season-high 27 points were the result, including the junior going 6-8 from behind the 3-point line.

“I think Michael’s mindset is changing for the better,” Donovan said. “I don’t think he came into the season with the right mindset. I felt like for the first time in a while, not so much that he made shots because the ball can go in or out of the basket, but I just liked his disposition and the way he was playing the game.”

The challenge for Frazier will come in playing the game the same way when his shots aren’t falling. Donovan hopes it will be a while before they have to see how he can handle it, but that’s when they’ll know if Frazier has turned the corner or still has work to do.

“Michael’s challenge is going to be when he misses some, can he still stay engaged in the game? I was happy with his approach,” Donovan said. “His approach to me has gotten better over the last week or so. That’s been pleasing. I’m not so sure his approach was that when the season started.”

Frazier admitted Monday morning that he’s playing without the pressure following him. The Gators returned plenty of contributors that needed to step up, but it was Frazier that wore the pressure of it.

“I guess I'm just playing now, not putting any pressure on myself,” Frazier said. I’m just going out there and playing the game, trying to do whatever I can to help the team win. Staying aggressive, that's really it.”

His next chance to stay aggressive and continue to improve comes on Tuesday night when the Gators travel to Tuscaloosa and face Alabama (9 p.m., TV: ESPN). It’s Florida’s third road games in its last four contests. The Gators go into Tuesday with three straight losses, trying to avoid losing four straight games for the first time since March 2008.

With nine straight wins over Alabama, Donovan cautions buying into that number. He sees a deep Alabama team built by former Florida assistant coach Anthony Grant.

“I think it’s a much, much deeper team,” Donovan said. “Much more balanced. So much of their team last year went through [Trevor] Releford. He was a terrific player for them. But [Jimmie] Taylor is a year older. [Ricky] Tarrant was sitting out a year. [Shannon] Hale is a year older. [Rodney] Cooper has been there. And obviously Levi Randolph is having a phenomenal year.

“They’ve gotten some good production from some young guys, but their veteran guys have gotten better. They’re a good team, deep team. They can play small, play big and have a lot of versatility in their roster.”

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