Most of all, Bowe Becker had fun Thursday night, swimming in a 50-yard freestyle final at the NCAA championships with Olympic gold medalists and a world champion. But the Gophers junior was pretty happy with the bronze medal he got, too.

Becker finished third in the 50 free in a time of 18.90 seconds, behind winner Caeleb Dressel of Florida and Ryan Held of North Carolina State.

The Big Ten champion in the 50 free, Becker edged out fourth-place Pawel Sendyk of California by .04 of a second to earn the highest NCAA finish by a Gophers men’s swimmer in five years.

“It’s a confidence booster,’’ Becker said. “It’s something that’s been a goal of mine for a while.

“I’m happy with it. It was a cool experience.’’

Gophers coach Kelly Kremer was thrilled for Becker, who improved substantially this season.

“Third in the country is phenomenal,’’ Kremer said. “I really hope it helps him have a new vision for what he’s capable of doing.

“ I hope he starts to think as big as we have since we met him.’’

The only other Gophers athlete to compete in an individual event Thursday was junior Nick Yang, who finished 20th in 1-meter diving with a score of 322.40.

Relays fall short

Kremer was a bit disappointed that the Gophers did not make the championship or consolation final in either of Thursday’s relays. They finished 18th in both, with a time of 1:17.63 in the 200 free relay and 3:07.03 in the 400 medley relay.

“I really thought we’d get two second swims there,’’ Kremer said. “We’re a team where we have to be perfect in prelims to get second swims or to put ourselves in the heat we belong in. We were good, but we weren’t perfect this morning.’’

The Gophers have qualified for the two remaining relays, the 200 medley relay on Friday and the 400 free relay Saturday.

Etc.

• Indiana leads the team race with 169 points, but only 16.5 points separate first place from fifth. North Carolina State (165), Texas (159), Florida (154) and California (152.5) are all in the mix.

• Six-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte, who swam at Florida, presented the medals for the 200 IM. Florida’s Jan Switkowski won in 1:39.54, the third-fastest time in history.

• Other winners Thursday included Townley Haas of Texas, who won the 500 free (4:08.60) for the second time in three years, and Indiana’s Michael Hixon, who won 1-meter diving with 464.40 points. Indiana won the 400 medley relay in 3:01.07.