Gophers need to stop Frazier, Penn State

Penn State star Tim Frazier is back after an Achilles tear spoiled his 2012-13 season.

Penn State guard Tim Frazier dribbles the ball during the game against the Gophers on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Mark Selders, Penn State Athletics

Penn State guard Tim Frazier dribbles the ball during the game against the Gophers on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.

Dane Mizutani

Penn State star guard Tim Frazier had his season spoiled last year after he tore his Achilles tendon in the fourth game.

Now, a year later, he has a chance to play spoiler against the Gophers in the final game of the regular season.

Minnesota enters its Sunday matchup with the Nittany Lions in dire need of a win.

Win, and the Gophers likely only need one victory in the Big Ten tournament to lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament. Lose, and they’ll essentially cook their chances at the Big Dance.

Frazier and his Penn State team are the only thing standing in the way.

“He’s one of the best guards in our conference,” head coach Richard Pitino said.

Frazier, who runs the point for the Nittany Lions, is ninth in the Big Ten with 15.8 points per game. He ranks first in assists, with 5.6 per game.

His Achilles tendon looks just fine. The Gophers witnessed his renewed explosiveness first hand after their matchup with Penn State earlier this season.

In that game, Frazier knifed through the lane and was more than capable of lighting it up from the floor. Then, at times, he’d step back and get his teammates involved in the offense.

He scored 20 points on an efficient 6-for-7 from the field and dished out eight assists.

“He’s one of those players that can light it up,” junior guard Andre Hollins said. “You have to stay in front of him. He’s a really good player.”

Frazier, however, wasn’t sure he’d ever return to this level of play again after last season’s injury.

“I had those doubts the first couple days,” Frazier told the Minnesota Daily in an interview at Big Ten Media Day, adding that he vividly remembers the injury.

Frazier ran off a ball screen — a motion that had become second-nature throughout his career — in the fourth game of the season.

He planted his foot as he curled around the screen and looked for the ball.

And down went Frazier.

“It was a simple push-off, and my Achilles snapped,” he said. “I was on so much adrenaline that I didn’t feel any pain.

“I walked to the sidelines and told the trainer something didn’t feel right … but I thought I was going back in.”

He wasn’t. A ruptured Achilles tendon meant months of rehab, a process Frazier said put a lot of things in perspective.

“I couldn’t walk for about four weeks,” he said. “I’d wake up in the morning and not being able to fix myself breakfast. I’d have to get on crutches just to walk over.

“And situations like that really humbled me and motivated me to get better.”

That motivation has translated to the court this season. Still, as the season winds to a close with Penn State on the outside of the NCAA tournament field, Sunday could be the last chance Frazier has to put on a show.

“That injury was really, really bad,” Pitino said. “And [for him] to play at the level he’s playing at [is impressive].

“It’ll be an interesting matchup just seeing if we can figure out a way to stop him.”