Gators face challenge after Frazier goes down

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When the Gators are at full strength, which has not been often this season, Billy Donovan has a solid eight-man rotation upon which he can rely.

He used only seven players in the Gators’ 71-54 victory over Arkansas on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at the O’Connell Center, still adjusting to life without junior forward Will Yeguete, who missed his fifth consecutive game because of a knee injury.

Donovan was down to six regulars midway through the second half, when freshman guard Michael Frazier, who had six points and three rebounds in 15 minutes, suffered a concussion going for a loose ball.

“From what I can gather, I think he hit Scottie [Wilbekin’s] knee,” Donovan said. “He’s having some neck pain. I think his head got jerked forward pretty well, so I think he’s dealing with some neck issues. I have no idea of the severity of the concussion.

“I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor. Obviously there will be baseline tests they will do on him. Once he passes all his baseline tests they slowly induce him back into working out and individual workouts and then practice. It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks — I don’t know.”

Frazier was injured after guard Mike Rosario went for a loose ball by diving over the courtside table and tossing it back on the floor. When the play was whistled dead and with his teammates going toward the bench for a timeout, Frazier remained on the court and was clearly woozy.

“I didn’t see what happened,” center Patric Young said. “I just thought he was laying there. I was ready for him to roll over and get up, but he didn’t get up.”

While it remains uncertain when Frazier will return, Donovan was already making plans without him with the Gators on the road at Tennessee on Tuesday night.

The Gators can get by with seven players in the regular rotation until Yeguete’s expected return before the end of the regular season, but not six. Donovan said someone from the freshman trio of Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham and DeVon Walker needs to pick up some of Frazier’s minutes.

Casey Prather has done a nice job in his expanded role with Yeguete out — Prather drew a pair of offensive fouls against Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell on Saturday and finished with eight points, nine rebounds, three steals and a block.

But the Gators need more than six healthy bodies.

“It’s just another thing,” Wilbekin said of Frazier’s injury. “We’ve had people out this whole season. If he’s out, that would really [stink] for us, but we’ve got to fight through it and persevere like we have all season.”

With a limited rotation Saturday, the Gators switched from man-to-man to zone in the second half to preserve energy. Donovan said those types of adjustments will continue as long as Florida’s depth is put to the test.

“Fatigue becomes a factor as it did today,” Donovan said. “Our guys fought through and they battled. Right now Yeguete is not playing on Tuesday and neither is Frazier. In terms of rotation, six guys is not enough to go to Knoxville with. We can’t do that. We’ve got to get another guy to go in there.”

Frazier has been by far Florida’s most productive newcomer this season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 25 games entering Saturday. Frazier’s most significant contributions have come from behind the 3-point line, where he scored his six points Saturday and is hitting 48.8 percent (43-for-88) on the season.

Frazier had scored in double figures in four of the last five games prior to facing Arkansas.

Now the Gators hope Ogbueze, Walker or Graham can provide a lift. The three have played just 96 minutes all season combined.

“When we’ve needed somebody to step up, we’ve had guys step up,” senior guard Mike Rosario said. “I feel good about our guys stepping up and really taking on that challenge.”

That is what Donovan wants to see. Young and starting shooting guard Kenny Boynton are the only Gators to play in every game this season.

Overall, the Gators have had their full allotment of players in the eight-man regular rotation only seven times in 26 games — or less than 30 percent. Starting forward Erik Murphy, Wilbekin, Prather, Yeguete and Rosario have all been injured and missed time.

“And I’m proud of our guys because we have battled this whole year long,” Donovan said. “We’ve got a tough schedule here ahead of us. You just go one game at a time. We’ve got a heck of a challenge on Tuesday; I know that, with six guys that have played.

“We’ve got to find a way to get some of these younger guys some reps here the next two days to try and at least get them prepared and ready to play.”

One more challenge in a season full of them.