Gophers open exhibition season Saturday versus Tommies

Coach Dan Monson said the game will be important for putting together a lineup.

Bob Wothe

Though Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s Saturday exhibition game against St. Thomas won’t count on the official record of either team, Gophers players said it’s important to get their season started off right this time.

Minnesota opens up its season Saturday at noon against St. Thomas in an exhibition game at Williams Arena.

“Obviously we want to open up with a win,” said Spencer Tollackson, a freshman from Chaska, Minn., who will see minutes at center and possibly power forward Saturday. “At this point, the game is good to help us improve on fundamental parts of the game.”

The Gophers’ meeting with the Tommies Saturday is the eighth all-time between the two schools. Minnesota leads the series 6-1 and will certainly be the favorite against the Division III team.

But Minnesota coach Dan Monson said the game is important because it gives the team the opportunity to tweak itself, including its starting lineup.

“Obviously, I’m going to have to pick five guys to go out there and shake hands,” Monson said. “But that won’t necessarily be our starting lineup for the rest of the season.”

Tommies coach Steve Fritz has no such problems.

The Tommies return nine of their top 13 players and four of five starters.

St. Thomas will also be boosted by the transfer of Sean Sweeney from Wisconsin-Green Bay. Sweeney led the Tommies in scoring as a freshman with 11.5 points per game before transferring to the Phoenix.

Back in St. Paul this season, Sweeney will give St. Thomas another source of scoring.

Because of the Tommies’ experience in playing together, backup freshman guard Rico Tucker said it’s important for the Gophers to play solid defense.

“We want to come out and play tough defense with a lot of energy,” Tucker said.

“This is a really athletic team, and we’ll use that to our advantage.”

Saturday’s game will serve to start answering some of the bigger questions for the Gophers, such as whether the team can improve on last year’s 10th-place Big Ten finish.

But Monson said that early-season games are important not to prove predictions wrong, but rather to lay a foundation for the team’s season.

“I’ve never been a big projection guy,” he said. “But with these young guys, we have to make sure the projections don’t become reality. We need to get better every day and give people a reason to get behind us.”