Minnesota faces first foes

The Gophers will play their first exhibition game this weekend.

Minnesota forward Oto Osenieks guards against North Florida forward Charles McRoy on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Oto Osenieks guards against North Florida forward Charles McRoy on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at Williams Arena.

Jace Frederick

The Gophers have been going toe-to-toe with one another in practice and at intrasquad scrimmages since the beginning of the summer, and everyone is tired of it.

“They are sick of each other. You can tell it,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. “They’re definitely sick of it. I’m sick of watching them against each other.”

The Gophers will hit the floor against an opponent wearing something other than maroon and gold for the first time in the Pitino era Friday, when they take on Cardinal-Stritch in an exhibition game.

It’s a welcomed contest for Pitino’s players.

“We can’t wait to get out in a real game and play against some other people,” junior forward Oto Osenieks said. “We’ve been playing each other a lot.”

Senior guard Malik Smith said the Gophers’ practices have been filled with intensity as the players battle their teammates, but he said it’s getting old going against the same players.

“Nobody calls fouls in practice. So it’s very physical,” Smith said. “We’re just ready to hit somebody else instead of hitting ourselves.”

Pitino said his players have shown a great attitude and willingness to get better in every practice except “maybe one” throughout the fall. He added that finally having a game to look forward to might change the players’ mindsets.

“I think … when they have a calendar and they see a game at the end of the week, they get much more fired up for practice,” he said. “When they don’t see a game for 10 or 15 days, they dread it.”

Pitino’s up-tempo style features a pressing defense meant to create turnovers. It’s created a catch-22 in practice, as the Gophers have forced turnovers but have also been the team turning the ball over.

That won’t be the case on Friday — finally.