Gophers freshman Payne gaining confidence in SoCal Challenge

The Gophers trusted freshman Pharrel Payne to have a bigger role in their offense at just the right time to help them advance to the SoCal Challenge championship Wednesday vs. UNLV.

Payne's 15 points and 13 rebounds in the 62-61 overtime victory Monday against Cal Baptist was the first double-double by freshman for the Gophers since former Cretin-Derham Hall star Daniel Oturu in 2018-19.

With leading scorer Dawson Garcia in foul trouble, the Gophers plan was clearly to establish the 6-foot-9 Park of Cottage Grove product in the post off the bench. Payne almost never left the floor and played 40 minutes.

Garcia hit the game-winning shot Monday, but Payne's basket pulled the Gophers within a point down the stretch in the extra period.

"It felt great knowing I could contribute to that win," Payne said. "I feel personally I grew with my confidence a lot. Playing those first few games I was a freshman not wanting to make mistakes and not playing freely."

Payne's previous career-high was 12 points and eight rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn on Nov. 11. He had 12 points in 27 minutes in the loss against DePaul on Nov. 14.

Probably the most impressive stat from Payne early this season is ranking third in the Big Ten shooting 76.9% (20-for-26) from the field.

"That's what it takes to not have any slippage," Johnson said. "We asked a lot of him as we do with all of our guys. But for him to be locked in for 40 minutes in Game 5 that's the stuff I get excited about."

GAME INFO

Time: 9:35 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: The Pavilion at J. Serra. Line: Gophers 4-point underdog. Series: UNLV leads the series 2-1, including the last meeting 62-58 win vs. the Gophers in Las Vegas in 2007. TV: CBS Sports Network. Online/Live video: CBSSports.com. Radio: KFAN 100.3-FM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (4-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Ta'Lon Cooper 6-4 195 Jr. 11.0

G – Jaden Henley 6-7 200 Fr. 6.4

G – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 Jr. 11.0

F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 230 So. 16.0

C – Treyton Thompson 7-0 210 So. 3.6

Key reserves– Pharrel Payne, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 9.2 ppg; Braeden Carrington, G, 6-4, Fr., 6.7 ppg; Taurus Samuels, G, 6-1, Sr., 2.4 ppg; Joshua Ola-Joseph, F, 6-7, Fr., 6.0 ppg; Will Ramberg, G, 6-5, Jr., 3.0 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 17-18 career (2nd season)

Notable: The Gophers got last season's leading scorer and rebounder Jamison Battle back into the lineup Monday against Cal Baptist. Battle, who missed the first four games to recover from foot surgery, led the team with 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. The 6-foot-7 All-Big Ten preseason junior had 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting in his season debut. … Freshman forward Kadyn Betts will redshirt the 2022-23 season after reclassifying and joining the team early this year. Betts will play with a highly touted 2023 class that was signed Nov. 9 with four-star Illinois guard Cameron Christie and five-star California center Dennis Evans III, who could be in attendance to watch the Gophers play this week. … Freshman guard Braeden Carrington, who won Minnesota Mr. Basketball and a state title last season at Park Center, made his season debut Nov. 14 after missing two games with an ankle sprain.

UNLV RUNNIN' REBELS (5-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Luis Rodriguez 6-6 210 Sr. 10.4

G – E.J. Harkless 6-3 195 Sr. 14.8

G – Keshon Gilbert 6-4 190 So. 16.2

G – Elijah Parquet 6-4 195 5.8

C – David Muoka 6-10 235 4.4

Reserves – Victor Iwuakor, F, 6-7, Sr., 2.6 ppg; Jackie Johnson III, G, 5-11, So., 7.8 ppg; Justin Webster, G, 6-3, Sr., 3.0 ppg; Jordan McCabe, G, 6-0, Sr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Kevin Kruger 23-14 (Second season)

Notable: The Rebels advanced to the SoCal Challenge championship after coming from behind 11 points in the first half to defeat Southern Illinois 56-49 on Monday night. Luis Rodriguez, E.J. Harkless and Keshon Gilbert combined for 48 points. UNLV's guard trio are averaging 41.4 points combined this season. The biggest win so far this season for Kruger's team came 60-52 on Nov. 16 against No. 21 Dayton after coming back from down 12 points in Las Vegas. Harkless had 24 points in that victory.

Fuller's score prediction: Gophers 66, UNLV 64.