Minnesota, aiming to build off strong start, faces UTSA

Minnesota will try to open the season with back-to-back victories when it hosts UTSA on Friday night in Minneapolis.

The Golden Gophers are coming off an 80-60 win against Bethune-Cookman on Monday. It was an impressive performance for a program that finished 9-22 last season and stumbled to a 2-17 record in the Big Ten.

Dawson Garcia led the way for Minnesota with 23 points and 14 rebounds in the opener. He also provided vocal leadership, encouraging his teammates during a late timeout when Minnesota’s lead had dwindled to 11 points.

Golden Gophers coach Ben Johnson noticed Garcia’s take-charge attitude.

“I wanted to know how we would respond, especially the guys who were here last year,” Johnson said. “One of the good things that happened in the (under-four-minute timeout) was Dawson spoke up. He basically said he didn’t know if last year’s team could have handled that.”

The Golden Gophers now turn their attention to UTSA, which is coming off a 78-68 win in overtime against visiting Western Illinois in its season opener on Monday.

Christian Tucker scored 18 points and dished eight assists in the Roadrunners’ first win. UTSA maintained its composure in overtime after allowing a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

The game marked the 100th career win for UTSA coach Steve Henson.

“The guys showed toughness, grit, the right stuff there,” Henson said. “Even though they were shell-shocked, as soon as that ball was tossed up for overtime, we made the plays we needed to make.”

Minnesota freshman Cam Christie expects to make his debut against UTSA. Christie did not play in the season opener as he continued to recover from an illness that saddled him for several weeks.

“He’s had only two practices,” Johnson said. “I know he had to get more under his belt before I felt comfortable playing him. So it always had been looked at for UTSA to be the game. He was only doing about 45 minutes in practice.”