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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — As the errant shots and turnovers piled up in the first half Wednesday, Gophers coach Ben Johnson could sense the SoCal Challenge championship game vs. UNLV was turning into a rough lesson for his basketball team.

Johnson's players failed to quit facing a 22-point second-half deficit in the 71-62 loss against the Rebels, but the Gophers were clearly rattled by the aggressive defensive pressure.

"I know we're capable of being able to handle that," Johnson said. "And just be a little bit tougher, be a little bit more into the game and not on our heels as much."

The game was much more one-sided than the final score indicated, especially after the Gophers (4-2) were outscored 19-2 late in the first half.

After a strong start early in the SoCal Challenge opener vs. Cal Baptist, Minnesota was outplayed with exception to the very end of the 62-61 overtime win Monday. And it was not the U's best showing in the title game.

A tougher stretch awaits for the Gophers against four straight major conference opponents, starting Nov. 28 at Virginia Tech. Here are four takeaways from the two Gophers games in the SoCal Challenge:

Battle's back

The return of All-Big Ten preseason forward Jamison Battle from foot surgery this week kept the Gophers from losing both games in the SoCal Challenge, but he was supposed to play restricted minutes.

Battle, who missed the first four games of the season, ended up being the team's best option offensively despite having only two practices under his belt.

The 6-foot-7 junior led the Gophers with 14 points per game in the SoCal Challenge. But Battle shot 28% from the field (9-for-32) and 21% from three (4-for-19). He was understandably rusty. He'll need time to adjust physically, but his competitiveness and tough shot making at times resembled his play during a breakout sophomore year.

The former George Washington transfer left no doubt that he's the Gophers go-to guy even with Garcia leading the team in scoring in his absence.

Backcourt help

It was no secret going into the season that the Gophers were going to be a work in progress with an entirely new backcourt, but they've been severely outplayed in both losses this season.

On Wednesday, UNLV's guards outscored their Big Ten counterparts 61-25.

Transfer Ta'Lon Cooper has lived up to the hype with his passing ability to rank third in the Big Ten with 7.3 assists, but he also has the second most turnovers in the conference with 19. That included nine turnovers combined in two SoCal Challenge games.

Cooper's struggles taking care of the ball have compounded the turnover problems for the rest of the team, including his starting backcourt mate Jaden Henley. The potential of Henley was on display earlier this season, but he not surprisingly has been turnover prone against pressure defenses.

The most consistent performer in the backcourt in California was freshman Braeden Carrington, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds combined against Cal Baptist and UNLV. Since his Gophers debut coming off an ankle injury, Carrington has quickly gained Johnson's trust to be part of the lineup finishing games.

Carrington's emergence has phased out graduate transfer Taurus Samuels in the main rotation, which makes the Gophers backcourt even younger.

Free throw frustration

Five different players went to the foul line Wednesday to contribute to another disappointing performance overall by the Gophers.

The fact that they rank last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (55%) was less of a concern early as it is now after six games. Battle went 4-for-4 at the line against UNLV, but the rest of the team shot just 7-for-15.

Garcia and Cooper combined to shoot 4-for-10 on free throws. They represent players who have drawn the most fouls on the team by far (31 free throw attempts each), so they'll need to improve as the season unfolds. Cooper's 48.4% is a big surprise since he shoots 60% from three-point range.

Three-point dependency

Battle becoming the focal point of the Gophers offense again means they naturally will be more dependent on outside shooting. He was one of the Big Ten's top shooters last season with a team-best 75 threes.

Three-point shooting is part of the U's identity under Johnson, but relying on jumpers hasn't led to much success. The last-place Gophers ranked third in the Big Ten last season in three-point shooting (36.8%).

Focusing on establishing a post presence with Garcia and freshman Pharrel Payne earlier in games might be the answer. Payne led the team with 15 points and 13 rebounds in Monday's win vs. Cal Baptist. And the Gophers wouldn't have pulled it out without Garcia's last-second shot in the paint in overtime.

In the SoCal Championship, Battle, Henley, Cooper, Carrington and Treyton Thompson had 28 of their 42 field goal attempts come from three-point range. It's pretty clear at times this is a live or die by the three offense.