When Kentucky played Georgia in Rupp Arena, J.J. Frazier’s driving layup tied the score at 70. UK called timeout with 3:47 left to ponder.
Frazier did some pondering of his own as he approached the Georgia bench.
“I looked at Coach and said, ‘I don’t know how I made that,’” he later recalled with a laugh. “And he looked back at me and said, ‘I don’t know how you do half the things you do.’”
Frazier, whom Georgia lists as 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, is built to provoke how-did-he-do-that.
Short. Slight. Smart. Scrappy.
Hmm. That should remind UK fans of someone.
With his team playing Kentucky on Saturday, Georgia Coach Mark Fox accepted an invitation to compare Frazier to Tyler Ulis.
“Yeah, he’s a lot like Ulis,” Fox said. “There’s no question. There’s a lot of similarities there.”
Frazier won’t match Ulis’ historic accomplishments of last season: at 5-9 and 160 the shortest Associated Press All-American since 1953, and only the second person named the Southeastern Conference’s Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
But Frazier has reasonably similar numbers and impact: He’s averaging 16.6 points (Ulis averaged 17.3). He has 52 steals (Ulis had 51). Ulis had a much better assist-to-turnover ratio: 7.0-to-1.9 compared to 4.3-to-2.5 for Frazier.
However, like last season’s UK point guard, Frazier has Ulis-like stamina. He leads the SEC with an average of 34.3 minutes per game (36.7 in league games). Ulis averaged 36.8 minutes overall, 37.3 in SEC games.
When asked his strategy for giving Frazier rest, Fox said, “Well, he never gets tired, so I’ve really taken him out to give other guys some experience.”
Also like Ulis, Frazier has demonstrated a competitive spirit and basketball smarts.
“A really high IQ for the game,” Fox said. “A lot of his basketball instincts were obviously in place before he came here. I can’t take credit for all that. I think guys that size probably develop instincts because they have to overcome their size their whole life.”
The competitive spirit has shown itself on several occasions. In early January, a reporter asked South Carolina Coach Frank Martin about Frazier.
“J.J. Frazier handed us three losses last year. …,” Martin said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor who has unbelievable courage. A senior with his experience, he might be the most complete, dynamic point guard in our conference.”
Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes credited Frazier with leading Georgia to a victory over his Vols on Feb. 11. Frazier took over after foul trouble made Georgia’s leading scorer, Yante Maten, a non-factor.
Frazier “is about as fast-twitch as there is,” Barnes said.
Frazier also showed Ulis-like leadership. As Ulis famously gave Skal Labissiere a get-with-it shove at UCLA last season, so Frazier exhorted his teammates to overcome a succession of bad breaks (most notably the clock malfunction at Texas A&M).
“We’ve been saying the last couple of weeks it would turn our way, it would turn our way,” Frazier said after Georgia rallied to win at Tennessee. “But the other day, I told them, we’ve got to make it turn our way.”
After Frazier scored 29 points at Tennessee, he said, “This week I told them I wasn’t going to let us quit.”
Frazier is on pace to set a Georgia record for free-throw accuracy. He’s made 374 of 451 foul shots, an 82.9-percent accuracy that would be the fourth-best ever recorded by an SEC player if he can get to 500 attempts.
Frazier grew up in Glennville, Ga. That’s the same hometown of former pro football players Sterling and Shannon Sharpe.
His father, James Frazier, did not allow his son to shoot three-pointers until well into high school. The elder Frazier feared that the distance might adversely affect his son’s shooting mechanics. Frazier has made 193 three-point shots, which equals the seventh-most in program history.
His rating as a two-star prospect coming out of high school only added fuel to the competitive fire he uses to compensate for a lack of size.
“Play with more energy, play with more competitiveness, play with more heart,” said Frazier, who has been known as the Glennville gnat. “I understand my strengths and my weaknesses. But once you get the understanding of those things, what you have to do to be a successful player at this height in a major conference, it gets easier as you go on.”
No. 13 Kentucky at Georgia
6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)