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Gators comforted by versatile team going to Sweet 16

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Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:10 am

When Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Doug McDermott failed, the rest of their teammates suffered the consequences. Duke, Kansas and Creighton were all favored heavily in their NCAA Tournament matchups, but each one stumbled in the Round of 32 after their stars underperformed in the spotlight.

Yet when Will Yeguete scored one point on 0-of-5 shooting in the Southeastern Conference Championship, Florida still found a way atop the podium at the end of the contest. When Scottie Wilbekin took just nine shots and two free throws against Albany in the Round of 64, the Gators escaped and avoided a disastrous upset. And when Michael Frazier II shot 3 of 13 from three-point range during UF’s first two games of the Big Dance, coach Billy Donovan still advanced to his fourth straight Sweet 16.

Each one of Florida’s players has struggled at some point during the season, but the key has been that the Gators never have to endure a night where the entire team struggles. Someone always manages to step up.

So if Frazier has a bad stretch, it’s not the end of the world for Donovan. Instead, the 18th-year coach has learned to adapt and rely on Frazier’s other skills besides shooting the basketball.

“I think Michael, after the game, even during the game, there probably was a level of frustration, wanting to be more involved, wanting to inject himself,” Donovan said about Frazier’s performance against Pitt. “But I think when a team makes a decision to guard us however they choose to guard us, there’s always going to be something open and something available, and to me the greatest sign of respect is when you try to eliminate or take away something from our team.”

When Albany shut down Frazier in the Round of 64 by limiting him to just four three-point shots, the sophomore guard still stayed true to his defensive skills and was effective against the Great Danes’ Peter Hooley.

And even when Frazier couldn’t capitalize after being given nine opportunities to sink a three against Pitt, he still was a factor with three rebounds and a steal.

Donovan compared Frazier to Joakim Noah during the 2007 national title game against Ohio State. More than anything, Donovan needed Noah to guard the Buckeyes’ Greg Oden without any help to prevent their three-point shooters from getting open.

Despite finishing the game with four fouls and just eight points on 1-of-3 shooting, Noah still found himself cutting down the nets for the second straight year.

“Joakim Noah was a non-factor in the game, but he just played his role and did what he needed to do to help our team, and Michael, based on however we’re being guarded, whatever is going on, just needs to play his role and take his shots when they’re there,” Donovan said. “He happened to get nine off against Pitt. He didn’t get nearly as many off against Albany. That’s going to happen.

“But against Albany we shot 51 percent from the field, so we were still scoring, and the offense I thought ran pretty well in terms of what we were getting and what we took advantage of.”

So when Patric Young sinks just 3 of 11 shots against Pitt, Donovan can still count on his senior center to have one of his best defensive games of the year. When everyone else refuses to make the big shots, Scottie Wilbekin shoots a perfect 6 of 6 during the game’s final eight minutes and finishes with a game-high 21 points.

The Gators show weaknesses every game, but there are enough weapons in Donovan’s arsenal that there will always be someone who steps up when the team needs it.

“I think in the game with the way Albany played us, [Finney-Smith], Patric, Kasey Hill, there was opportunities for those guys to be a little bit more aggressive offensively and do a little bit more offensively,” Donovan said.

“The opportunities were not quite there for Scottie and for Frazier, and I think that’s what’s made our team good is we can have different players in different situations step up and score and do things offensively.”

Follow Jonathan Czupryn on Twitter @jczupryn

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