MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Florida’s ‘Core Four’ — a quartet of seniors dogged and determined to advance to their fourth straight Elite Eight — struggled mightily for large stretches Thursday night, but a sweet-shooting sophomore managed to deliver the Gators back to the Regional Finals to keep their dream season alive.
UF’s sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II rediscovered his silky-smooth stroke Thursday night in the FedEx Forum, drilling five 3-poiners as top-seeded Florida trumped fourth-seeded UCLA 79-68 in the Sweet 16 for its 29th-straight victory.
“Coach pulled me aside today in shoot-around and told me to shoot with confidence,” Frazier said. “That’s all I tried to do tonight. Take good ones and they were just able to fall.”
Last weekend, Frazier said he needed to leave Orlando’s Amway Arena simply to see some different rims.
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He was right.
After scoring 13 points total — on 4-for-15 shooting — in two games in Orlando, Frazier drained three treys in the game’s first 20 minutes to lead all scorers at halftime with nine points.
“He’s a shooter, he’s just got to get that confidence going,” UF senior forward Will Yeugete said.
“He’s been working really hard the last few days. He did great today. When he was open, he made it.”
It was only a matter of time before the nation’s ninth-best 3-point shooter (45 percent) caught fire, and it proved the difference Thursday night.
The Gators, propelled by Frazier’s game-high 19 points, ended the Bruins’ season.
For the fourth time since 2006, UF knocked out UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida’s motion offense gashed UCLA’s leaky zone early, as the Gators found Frazier for several open looks in the first half.
But Frazier wasn’t cooled off by intermission.
The Bruins opened the second half on a quick 5-0 sprint, yet Frazier immediately answered UCLA’s momentum wave with two straight triples to silence the run.
The sophomore — who set a SEC-record with a 11 made 3-pointers in a game earlier this year — topped Lee Humphrey’s record for most treys in a single season in school history (115) on Thursday night.
Frazier made five treys for the ninth time this year and also chipped in six rebounds and three assists to cap a phenomenal performance.
After shooting a ghastly 8-for-32 (25 percent) from behind the arc in the second and-third round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gators opened Thursday’s regional on fire, drilling five of their first eight attempts. But Florida — which averages 6.7 made treys a game — needed every bucket from Frazier, as the rest of the team combined to shoot 3-for-13 from behind the arc.
“The difference was the 3-point line,” UCLA guard Norman Powell said. “We made 3-of-18 and they were knocking it down.”
Well, Frazier was and it was the difference.