MINNEAPOLIS -- Lindsay Whalen said this two-week period, which has had a suspension to her best player amid a four-game losing streak, is the toughest stretch she’s had in her two years as the Gophers’ women’s basketball coach.
Whalen on Wednesday, Jan. 15, opened her news conference leading up to Thursday’s home game against No. 22 Iowa by addressing the absence of leading scorer Destiny Pitts: She remains under suspension and is not practicing but is still a member of the program.
Pitts, a junior from Detroit, missed Sunday’s 74-71 loss at Illinois for “conduct unbecoming a member of the team,” the U said.
“To be an athlete at the University of Minnesota comes with high standards and expectations,” Whalen read in an opening statement. “When those are not met, there are consequences. I will always respect the privacy of a student-athlete. So I will not go into any detail to what led to my decision, or what has transpired since.”
Whalen said starting center Taiye Bello, who leads the team at 9.9 rebounds per game, and backup post Kehinde Bello, twins from Southfield, Mich., were withheld from Sunday’s game but would practice Wednesday and their status for Thursday’s game “is still to be determined.”
It’s unclear if the root of Pitts’ suspension involves a possible violation of the University of Minnesota Student Conduct Code.
Whalen said the Pitts and Bellos issues are not related, and that Pitts’ status could be resolved but did not give a possible timeline. “As I said, I’m not going to go into details as to what that is,” she said.
Pitts leads the team with a 16.3-point average, along with averaging 4.8 rebounds per game this season. She was first team all-Big Ten last season and was the unanimous freshman of the year in the conference in 2017-18.
Whalen was asked to describe what Pitts has meant to the program and what she hopes for in a resolution:
“She has been someone who has played a lot of games and had a lot of success here, so we are continuing to work on things,” Whalen said.
Whalen, who was hired before the 2018-19 season, said it’s the first time she has gone through this sort of disciplinary issues. “But this is why (Athletics Director) Mark (Coyle) hired me — to handle difficult situations,” she said.
Whalen’s team lost seven of eight Big Ten games during her coaching debut season a year ago, but she acknowledged this has been more trying. “Yeah, I would say so,” she said. “We had some tough stretches last year. And it’s definitely been challenging.”
The next test is a rivalry: Gophers (11-5, 1-4 Big Ten) vs. Hawkeyes (13-3, 4-1) at 7 p.m. at the Barn. Iowa is coming off wins over then-No. 15 Indiana and No. 20 Maryland in the past week.