Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen said Wednesday that leading scorer Destiny Pitts remains suspended — meaning she’ll miss Thursday’s game against Iowa at Williams Arena — while Kehinde and Taiye Bello are back with the team.
But Whalen is less certain about whether Pitts will eventually return or if the Bellos will play Thursday against the Hawkeyes.
Pitts, a guard from Detroit, was suspended before Minnesota’s 74-71 loss at Illinois on Sunday for what the school said was “conduct unbecoming a member of the team.” Neither of the Bello sisters, both forwards, made the trip to Illinois.
Whalen said Wednesday the two situations were not related.
No players were made available to answer questions Wednesday.
Whalen wasn’t willing to reveal any reason for the suspension, saying she would respect Pitts’ privacy. But in a statement she read before taking questions, Whalen made clear her resolve:
“To be an athlete at the University of Minnesota comes with high standards and expectations,” she said. “When those are not met, there are consequences. … I can tell you that Destiny Pitts’ status has not changed. She remains suspended. Kehinde Bello and Taiye Bello will be back for Thursday’s game with Iowa, though their status is still to be determined.”
Pitts is the team’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game and was a first-team all-Big Ten selection by the media as a sophomore last season. Taiye Bello is the second-leading scorer (13.0 ppg) and the team’s top rebounder (9.9). Kehinde Bello has been Whalen’s top post player off the bench. Without the three, the Gophers lost to an Illini team that entered the game winless in Big Ten play.
Whalen said the Bellos did not practice Tuesday but would Wednesday, indicating their issue was resolved either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
As for Pitts, Whalen said she is still a part of the program but isn’t practicing while suspended. She lauded what Pitts has done for the program. When asked if she thought there was a chance the problem could be resolved, she said yes. “But, as I said, I’m not going into details as to what that is. But yes,” Whalen said.
Whalen did not say whether or not she felt the situation could be quickly resolved, but she did say this was the toughest stretch she’s been through as a head coach.
The Gophers (11-5, 1-4 Big Ten) have lost four consecutive games and will have a tough time ending that skid without Pitts against No. 22 Iowa, which is 13-3 overall and is the Big Ten co-leader with Indiana at 4-1.
“[It’s the] first time going through anything like this,” said Whalen, in her second year as Gophers coach. “But this is why Mark [Coyle, Gophers athletic director] hired me. To handle difficult situations. So yes, it’s the first time I’m going through anything like this. My job is to make sure we’re prepared for Iowa and getting ready for that game. So yeah, of course it’s a new experience. But that’s why they brought me here.”
Whalen said she’s trying to keep her team’s routine the same to minimize any distractions.
“That’s the challenge always, to make sure we’re on the same page and working together,” she said.