tampabay.com

Healthy at the right time

By wire services
Published March 23, 2005


Jason Fraser refuses to believe in bad luck or curse his misfortune.

All he cares about are his contributions in getting Villanova into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988. The biggest one came Sunday: 21 points and 15 rebounds against Florida.

"Everything's moving in the right direction," Fraser said Tuesday.

Fraser hasn't been able to say that in a long time. And with the Wildcats' second-leading scorer, Curtis Sumpter, out for the season with a knee injury, Fraser must keep moving in the right direction.

Once considered the top star in coach Jay Wright's touted recruiting class that included Sumter and starting guard Allan Ray, Fraser's career has been stunted by injuries.

As a freshman, (2002-03), he started 22 of 24 games until a stress fracture in his left foot and a suspension for his role in the team's phone card violations. He had surgery on both knees in April 2003 to alleviate tendinitis. He missed eight games of his sophomore season with a broken left foot.

There was another surgery on his left knee in October. And he missed four games after breaking his right hand in January. Fraser said he couldn't look back at what might have been.

"You can't because then you're beating yourself up and you wear and tear mentally," he said. "You've just got to stay positive and look toward the future."

Fraser rarely practices, and when he does, he usually needs the next day off. Wright said the rapid succession of games, starting with the Big East tournament, has worked in Fraser's favor.

"I think (teammates are) just getting comfortable with him now," he said. "And they're going to him."

BIG EAST BLUES: The Big East, which produced the past two national champions and placed six teams in the tournament this year, is down to two. And instead of 2004 champ Connecticut or 2003 champ Syracuse, they are West Virginia and Villanova.

"I'm not surprised by anything that happens in March Madness," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "I think Villanova was picked to finish fifth or sixth in our league. We were picked to finish 10th.

"We're not unlike any of the other conferences. Teams get hot like Villanova and us have, and if you have one bad game like some of the other teams had, your season is over."

GET OUT THE REMOTES: For the first time since 1989, North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke (separated by about 30 miles) reached the Sweet 16 in the same season. With all three playing Friday (and the Wolfpack and Blue Devils starting 17 minutes apart), TV stations around the state scrambled.

In Charlotte, the CBS affiliate will show Duke with N.C. State on UPN. The Raleigh CBS affiliate is across the street from the N.C. State campus, so it will show the Wolfpack. The Fox affiliate, owned by the same company, will show Duke.

NOT THE SAME: Kentucky is 5-0 in the Tournament against Utah, its opponent Friday, since 1993. That includes the 1998 national title game. But Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said this Utah team is better than the 1998 team.

"They had a lot of talented players in 1998," Smith said, rattling off names such as Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. "But this team, because of what they've been able to accomplish, suggests it is a balanced team."