CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Things went from bad to worse Sunday for the Gophers women’s basketball team.
Before a fourth consecutive loss — 74-71 to Big Ten bottom-feeder Illinois — the team released a statement saying that it had suspended leading scorer Destiny Pitts for “conduct unbecoming a member of the team,’’ and that Taiye Bello — the Big Ten’s leading rebounder — and reserve Kehinde Bello also had not made the trip, for undisclosed reasons.
Coach Lindsday Whalen had no comment in her postgame news conference about the length of Pitts’ suspension or when the Bellos might return. Pitts and Taiye Bello account for 29.3 of the Gophers’ points per game and 14.7 of their rebounds.
Forced into significant playing time, junior college transfer Masha Adashchyk and freshman Klarke Sconiers made their first career starts, and post Barbora Tomancova saw action off the bench. Whalen used only seven players.
The Gophers (11-5, 1-4) trailed by 12 points with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter against a team that had lost 11 straight Big Ten games, but they got within one point and had possession late.
Still, the Illini (10-6, 1-4) escaped with their second straight win over Minnesota.
After a pair of timeouts with Illinois leading 72-71 — first a 60-second from Whalen and next a 30-second by Illinois — Gadiva Hubbard’s inbounds pass from underneath the basket with 12 seconds left was stolen by Illinois senior guard Brandi Beasley, who was subsequently fouled by Sara Scalia.
Beasley made both free throws, and Jasmine Powell missed a last-second potential game-tying three-pointer.
“We were trying to get a ball screen get it to someone in the paint and be aggressive,” Whalen said. “They defended really good and got the steal. We had our call in and felt good about it.”
Adashchyk had eight points and four rebounds in 28 minutes and made two of her three three-point attempts; Sconiers had six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes; and Tomancova had nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
Scalia had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Gophers. Powell scored 15 points and Jasmine Brunson added 14 — half of them in the fourth quarter. Petra Holesinska scored 28 points for Illinois.
Brunson made a three-pointer to pull the Gophers to within three points, 72-69, and her steal off an inbounds pass led to a Powell layup, which made it 72-71 with 1:11 left.
Powell missed a potential go-ahead layup with 21 seconds to go, and after an offensive rebound, Brunson missed a jumper. The inbounds play then failed.
Minnesota, the Big Ten leader in free-throw percentage entering the game, was only 9-for-18 from the line.
“It came down to we put ourselves in position for the win and it just unfortunately didn’t go our way,” Whalen said.