Mizzou's Greatest, #61-60: Ricky Frazier & 1981-82 Mizzou

The Savitar

Frazier finished his career as Mizzou's all-time leading scorer, and his final Mizzou squad brought to Columbia a level of dominance that hadn't been seen in 60 years.

From Michael Atchison's True Sons blog:

A 6’6" forward blessed with terrific athleticism and a soft shooting touch, Ricky Frazier transferred to Mizzou after a freshman year at St. Louis University in which he won the Metro Conference’s Newcomer of the Year award. His impact on the Tigers was just as significant. As a sophomore, he started 30 of 31 games, averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, led the team in blocked shots, shot 63.5% from the floor, and helped Missouri win the Big Eight title – a feat the Tigers would accomplish in all three of his seasons in Columbia. Then he improved. First team All-Big Eight as a junior, Frazier led the Tigers with 16.5 points per game and hit the game-winning shot against Kansas State that sealed Mizzou’s second straight league championship. Frazier closed his career in 1982 by winning the Big Eight Player of the Year award, earning third-team All-America honors, and helping Mizzou to its first-ever number one ranking the national polls. His career total of 1,448 points stood as a Missouri record for just one season, but it remained the highest total for any Tiger not to play four years until Kareem Rush surpassed it 20 years later. But the greatest honor may have come from his coach, Norm Stewart, who called Frazier "perhaps the best competitor we ever had."

From his Mizzou All-Century Team bio:

Ranks 13th on the MU career scoring list with 1,448 points (15.4 ppg) ... Ranked #1 on the career scoring list at the time of his departure after the 1982 season, only to see the record broken the next year by both Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold ... Led MU in scoring in each of his last 2 seasons, averaging a team-best 16.3 ppg in 1981 and 16.1 in 1982 ... Named an All-American in 1982 ... Big Eight Conference Player of the Year in 1982 ... 1st-Team All-Big Eight in 1981 and 1982 ... Team captain in 1982 for a team which went 27-4 and won a 3rd-straight Big Eight title ... Inducted into the Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999 ... Drafted in the 2nd round of the 1982 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls ...

We call them the Stipo-and-Sundvold years, but who led Mizzou in scoring in both 1980-81 and 1981-82? Ricky Frazier, who was in is own right one of Mizzou's best ever players.

Mizzou won another conference title with Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold in 1983, the year after Frazier graduated, but the peak team of that era was actually the 1981-82 squad. Frazier averaged 16.1 points and seven rebounds per game, Stipo tossed in 12 and eight, and Sundvold scored 12 per game with three assists. The bench was loaded -- eight players averaged at least 13 minutes per game -- and Mizzou went 27-4 overall.

In 1981, Mizzou had finished the regular season by winning six of seven to wrap up a second straight conference title. But a conference tournament loss to Kansas, followed by a surprising loss to Lamar in the NCAA Tournament, ended the season on a sour note. Still, the Tigers began the 1981-82 season ranked 16th -- it was the lowest they would be ranked all season. Wins over Illinois (78-68 in OT), Baylor (70-51), UAB and USC in the Winston Tire Classic in Los Angeles, and Notre Dame (92-70) sent Mizzou into the AP top 5, but the rise was not finished.

Mizzou beat Colorado and Oklahoma State to start conference play, then experienced one of the greatest weekends in its history, beating Nebraska by two in Lincoln, then flying to St. Louis and taking out defending national champion Louisville the very next afternoon.

I've told this story before, but in 2008, as Missouri was gaining 651 yards and scoring 69 points on Nevada, as they were scoring touchdowns of 80 (Chase Daniel pass to Jeremy Maclin), 59 (Derrick Washington run), 49 (Daniel to Maclin), and 32 yards (Tommy Saunders to Chase Coffman), The Beef and I looked at each other and said, "This offense is never going to be better than this." It couldn't be. The peak for the Daniel offense happened that Saturday in Columbia.

[It] probably never got better than that week, from one Saturday night in Lincoln to the next in Columbia. This was the greatest week of Mizzou's greatest era.

Mizzou would move to 18-0 with home wins over Kansas and Oklahoma, road wins over Iowa State and Kansas State, and another win over Colorado. Things would get more difficult down the stretch, with home losses to Nebraska and Kansas State and a tricky road loss to Georgetown two days after a win in Norman (man oh man, did Norm enjoy scheduling a challenge). But Mizzou still finished the regular season 23-3, took the Big 8 title, and swept the conference tournament to move to 26-3. Even with the losses, the Tigers never dropped below fifth in the polls and finished the season there.

From Atchison's True Sons: A Century of Missouri Basketball:

The Tigers turned things around in the conference tournament, advancing to the final, where Ricky Frazier scored 24 points in a triumph over Oklahoma, Mizzou’s third victory against the Sooners on the year. "We have won the conference [before] and come to Kansas City and not played well," said Jon Sundvold, a member of the all-tournament team, "but we were ready to play tonight." For the first time ever, the Missouri Tigers captured the Big Eight regular season title and post-season tournament championship in the same year. They entered the NCAA Tournament back on stride.

After a first round bye, second-seeded Missouri met Marquette in the Midwest Region in Tulsa. On a day when jittery ball handling almost sank them, the Tigers rode their front line to victory. Frazier and Stipanovich combined for 39 in a 73-69 victory that advanced them to the regional semifinals in St. Louis. To reach the long-elusive Final Four, Mizzou would need to win just two games before a local crowd.

Alas...

In the Sweet Sixteen, Missouri faced a tremendous but relatively unknown team from the University of Houston. With players like Rob Williams, Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon, the Cougars’ anonymity would be short-lived. Houston’s big, powerful frontcourt overwhelmed the smaller Tigers, and forced Norm Stewart to give extended minutes to Greg Cavener, the 6’9" freshman. Down by 10 points with 5:30 to play, the resilient Tigers mounted a comeback, but they could not catch up. Ricky Frazier scored a career-high 29 points in a 79-78 loss. Afterwards, Missouri’s players were mad at themselves. Their 18 turnovers and 18-of-31 free throw shooting cost them in a bitter end to a brilliant season.

Mizzou Basketball hasn't ever finished a season with the happiest of happy sports endings. In fact, the Tigers haven't even made a Final Four. This, we know very well. But in 1981-82, the Tigers became a true basketball force, bringing dominance and a higher level of play to Columbia than the town had seen in 60 years. And they did so with perhaps the most dominant trio in Tiger history; three of Atchison's top 10 Tigers ever were on that team. The postscript for Frazier has been frustrating and disappointing, but he finished his career as Mizzou's all-time leading scorer despite playing only three years, won the Big 8's player of the year award as a senior, and was selected by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1982 NBA Draft. He is a Tiger legend. So is that team.

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