NO.uconntulane004.011418.jpg

Connecticut guard Antwoine Anderson passes as Tulane guard Melvin Frazier blocks his path to the basket during a Jan. 13 game at the Devlin Fieldhouse.

Advocate photo by A.J. SISCO

Although he remains optimistic, star swingman Melvin Frazier may not be available when the Tulane men's basketball team plays at Tulsa on Thursday night.

It will depend on how much the pain subsides in his chest after he took a blow on a pick early in the Green Wave's game against Temple on Sunday.

"I've never had an injury like this, but I feel better," said Frazier, who was limited to conditioning drills while his teammates practiced Tuesday. It's a little bruise. I think I should be ready by Thursday. Just (have to) keep working out and get treatment and stuff."

Having lost five of its last seven, Tulane (13-9, 4-6 American Athletic Conference) can ill afford to be without the league leader in field-goal percentage and steals, a rare double that makes Frazier unique in college basketball. Tulsa (13-10, 6-5) which won 65-56 on New Year's Eve at Devlin Fieldhouse, is 4-1 at home in conference play, with its only defeat by three points to No. 22 Wichita State.

"He (Frazier) is improving," Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday after practice. "He was better yesterday than the day before and better today than yesterday. It's a matter of seeing how he responds by game time."

Until the injury, Frazier had responded to just about every challenge in a breakthrough junior year, averaging 17.3 points, scoring in double figures 19 of 21 times and going only one game without a steal. With some draft experts projecting him as a late first-round pick, ESPN.com sent a reporter to the Temple game to interview him about his NBA potential.

He is noncommittal about his future, saying he will wait until the end of the season before thinking about professional basketball. His immediate goal is helping Tulane reverse its recent slide, health willing.

Frazier tried to return against Temple a few minutes after getting hurt but had to come out almost immediately. He said he could not lift his hands over his shoulders without searing pain, so he spent the rest of the day as a cheerleader on the bench.

"It affected us both ways," Dunleavy said. "He creates offense with his defense and having a scorer out there, the plus-minus effect is big."

Tulane still led Temple with 6:00 left before coming up empty. Senior forward Cam Reynolds pointed to Frazier's absence as a huge factor in the frustrating loss, with the Owls getting better looks at the basket than the Wave down the stretch.

"He's a big piece, not so much on offense but just his defensive talk," Reynolds said. "He's our defensive leader. He makes a lot of steals and gets a lot of deflections."

Each result creates significant movement in the muddled middle of the AAC. A win against fourth-place Tulsa would propel Tulane within a half-game of the Golden Hurricane, while a loss would drop it to 10th.

After getting outrebounded by the obscene margin of 52-30 in the first meeting, the Wave must be more aggressive on the boards to give itself a chance.

Frazier, who had only two rebounds against Tulsa but grabbed at least six in the last four games before Sunday, will be an important part of that effort — if he can play.

"I've just been working and it's showing up on the court," he said. "I look forward to just keeping it going and helping my teammates keep scoring and doing whatever I have to do for us to win."

Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith