Sour memories have Minn. prepared for exhibition

The Gophers lost their exhibition opener last season to Division II Winona State; they'd rather not have the same happen Wednesday against SW Minnesota State.

John Hageman

Exhibition games are typically seen as warm-ups for the rest of the season, a more competitive practice session with a lesser opponent used to get players ready for the regular season.

But the Gophers learned the hard way last season not to take such a game too lightly. In their first exhibition game last season, they fell to D-II member Winona State on a buzzer-beating baseline jumper.

Minnesota will try to keep that from happening again when it hosts Southwest Minnesota State on Wednesday and Minnesota-Crookston on Sunday.

âÄúItâÄôs easy to take these games for granted,âÄù senior guard Kiara Buford said. âÄúI was very upset just personally, but I think that itâÄôs something that we really want to prevent from happening in the future.âÄù

It was the first exhibition loss of head coach Pam BortonâÄôs career at Minnesota, and it marked the beginning of her first losing season here.

That loss foreshadowed many of the problems that would plague the Gophers throughout the season. In the first half of the 64-62 loss, Minnesota shot just over 31 percent from the field and ended the season shooting a Big Ten-worst 37 percent.

âÄúI definitely think that was a telling moment of our season,âÄù Buford said. âÄúIf we were able to let that go, I think it would have been easier down the road.âÄù

While the veterans are eager to take the court Wednesday and get off on the right foot, Minnesota underclassmen are just looking to gain some valuable experience. This will be essential for a team that has twice as many freshmen as seniors.

Borton said the amount of youth on the team will require her to make veterans out of freshmen quicker than in years past.

âÄúI think thatâÄôs one of the focuses for the preseason, to speed up the learning curve for the freshmen,âÄù Borton said. âÄúI think we see how much they can actually or potentially help us this year.âÄù

Borton said freshmen Sari Noga, Kionna Kellogg and Micaëlla Riché have seen a lot of reps in practice and should have some significant playing time. The other newcomer, Shonté Clay, has battled injuries throughout practice and may be a little behind the others.

For Borton, the upcoming games provide not only a chance to shake off some of the rust and get players prepared for the season but also an opportunity to break the repetition of practice.

âÄúI think everybodyâÄôs just ready to get out there and kind of see where weâÄôre at and see what we need to work on before our first game,âÄù Borton said. âÄúThis is the fun part. The practices are the hard part.âÄù