Thursday evening at Williams Arena, in front of an announced 3,412 fans, the Gophers women’s basketball team began the post-Destiny Pitts era with a game against No. 22 Iowa.
It commenced four days after Pitts was suspended by coach Lindsay Whalen, about three hours after the junior guard — saying she was “blindsided and shocked” by the move — announced on Twitter her intention to enter the transfer portal.
The Gophers are moving on; Pitts will move elsewhere.
Thursday, Pitts stated her case while Whalen and Gophers athletic officials stayed essentially mum.
“Last Friday,” she wrote, “I was informed that I was suspended indefinitely for my ‘body language’ during the Northwestern game. As this was my first discipline situation of my career at Minnesota [or as a basketball player at any level], I was blindsided and shocked by the suspension.”
The only official word from the school was this statement from Whalen: “We learned this afternoon that Destiny Pitts intends to enter the transfer portal. As I said [Wednesday], I will always respect the privacy of a student-athlete and will continue to do so. We wish Destiny the best moving forward.”
Pitts was an All-Big Ten choice by the media as a sophomore last season and was the team’s leading scorer this year, averaging 16.3 points.
Without her, the Gophers went out and suffered one of their most difficult defeats of the season, a 76-75 heartbreaker that saw the Hawkeyes end on a 19-5 run.
Afterward, Whalen talked about the players who remain on the team, not so much about the one that left.
“We’ll break through on one of these,” she said. “I know it hurts, but I’m extremely proud of the team, proud of the way they battled. … Everybody [has to] keep their heads up, keep sticking together and it’s time to start getting ready for Purdue. We’ll continue to work and we’ll continue to battle.”
The suspension was announced before a 74-71 loss at Illinois on Sunday, a game the Gophers also played without Taiye Bello and her sister, Kehinde Bello. In a news conference Wednesday, Whalen attempted to separate the two issues. But in her tweet, Pitts suggested the Bellos essentially skipped the game to support her.
“The Bello sisters truly went above and beyond — as teammates and as friends — by sitting out last week’s trip to Illinois in protest of a suspension they know is wrong.”
But by Wednesday, the Bellos had rejoined the team — both Taiye, who is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, and Kehinde, Whalen’s top reserve post player. They both practiced Wednesday and were available Thursday. But only Taiye Bello played, and not until there were six minutes left in the third quarter. When asked if she and the Bellos were on the same page, Whalen said yes: “Everybody in the locker room, we’re going to continue to work together. That’s all we can do,” she said.
Indeed, going with the same starting lineup that started Sunday — one that included junior college transfer guard Masha Adashchyk and freshman center Klarke Sconiers — the Gophers led for much of the game before fading late.
“I think it says a lot,” junior guard Gadiva Hubbard said. “Off the court we have each other’s backs. We’re going to stay positive and be there for each other. I think that showed on the court.”
Now it’s up to the players that remain to try to get the Gophers back on a winning track.
“The main thing I’m trying to do is just encouragement,” senior guard Jasmine Brunson said. “I’m trying to encourage my teammates. I mean, it’s just sticking together. Because, at the end of the day, it’s a sisterhood. So all the adversity, we’re going to face it together. Have each other’s back. I’m very proud of this team. So proud. We have so many young guys and we’re fighting. We’re sticking together right now.”