In the University of Minnesota's COVID-19 testing facility last week, Richard Pitino saw his 7-footer Liam Robbins walking by with the same sour mood as his head coach.
As usual, nobody was thrilled to be up early for the daily tests, but they were even more annoyed by waiting a full week to play after a tough loss.
"There's nothing fun about it," Pitino said of the daily routine, "but we're still grateful."
The Gophers played six games last month, their fewest in a January since 1973. It began as arguably the most successful January of the Pitino era. Three wins vs. ranked foes. The month ended, though, with back-to-back losses to unranked opponents.
Entering Thursday's game at Rutgers, the Gophers (11-6, 4-6 Big Ten) are still trying to regain the momentum they lost after not playing right after their impressive win Jan. 16 over top-10 Michigan at Williams Arena.
The Gophers were scheduled to play at Nebraska four days later — an excellent chance for Minnesota's first road win — but the game was postponed because of the Cornhuskers' COVID issues. And what followed were disappointing blowout losses to Maryland and Purdue.
"Momentum is big in sports," Pitino said. "When you beat a Michigan and you don't have the rush and thrill of victory [in front of fans] in your building. And then all of a sudden Nebraska gets canceled. It is what it is this year. It's just so very unique and different this year."
Michigan is the latest to experience just how different this season has been with its entire athletic department now on a two-week COVID-19 pause, including the Big Ten-leading men's basketball team.
The Wolverines joined Nebraska, Michigan State and Penn State in becoming the fourth men's hoops program to pause during Big Ten play. Every team in the league now has had games postponed as a result.
The Gophers aren't alone in struggling to play well after losing a scheduled game because of COVID-19. Big Ten teams were 7-9 entering Wednesday in their first game back after postponements. Some teams needed the break, but others looked completely out of sorts.
Michigan State, a struggling perennial power, lost by 30 points at Rutgers in its first game in 20 days after a three-game hiatus.
Rutgers had a three-game losing streak, when Penn State couldn't play on Jan. 12. The Scarlet Knights lost two more games after that postponement, but they regrouped to win three in a row entering Thursday's game vs. the Gophers.
Pitino tried to keep his team engaged last month with only four games during a 21-day span, but the daily testing, distance learning and basic separation from the outside world took its toll.
"Guys are very isolated," Pitino said. "Practice is kind of the same. It's kind of monotonous for them. So when you don't have a lot of games in a certain amount of time, it's definitely something where mentally, we're trying to keep our guys positive, encouraged and enthusiastic about some great opportunities in front of us."
When asked recently about how well the Gophers played to beat Michigan 75-57 on Jan. 16, Pitino said it was hard for him to remember much. To him and his team, "it feels like a year ago."
That was the Gophers' most complete game of the season. They got solid contributions from Robbins and standout junior point guard Marcus Carr. They were the first team to beat the Wolverines this season, forcing 20 turnovers and holding them to 39% shooting.
A week later, Minnesota was almost unrecognizable in a 63-49 loss to Maryland, its first home loss. Players lacked energy. The Gophers were held to their lowest-scoring home game since 2016.
The effort was better Saturday after another long break before the game at Purdue, but the same offensive ineptitude surfaced in the second-half meltdown of a 19-point loss.
"I don't believe the confidence level in our team has dropped," senior forward Brandon Johnson said. "I just believe we've hit a rough patch in the road. I've seen many teams across the country go through the same thing. That's college basketball."