Since her team got back together in September, here is the number of times women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen has had a full, healthy squad available to practice:
None. Injury and illness have affected just about every team in the country — but perhaps, more than most, the Gophers. Multiple COVID-19 cases forced the program to pause all activities in early November. And then there have been injuries. Since Nov. 1, including Tuesday's rather long workout, the Gophers have practiced nine times. At one session, Whalen recalls, there were only three players available.
"It just is what it is," Whalen said Tuesday. "It's 2020. Everyone is dealing with it."
The Gophers open the Big Ten Conference schedule Wednesday night at home against Michigan State. After that come back-to-back games against ranked opponents in Northwestern and Indiana.
The early part of the conference schedule could be rough. Whalen had seven healthy players on opening night for a four-point victory over Eastern Illinois in a game where three — Grace Cumming, Justice Ross and Erin Hedman — made their college debuts.
On Sunday the Gophers were defeated by 33 points by a veteran Drake team. It was a difficult, stunning loss. But it came on a night when three potential starters — Sara Scalia, Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Kayla Mershon — as well as freshman Alexia Smith were unavailable.
Bagwell-Katalinich and Mershon are transfers; injury has held Bagwell-Katalinich out while Mershon is waiting for a transfer waiver. Kadi Sissoko is eligible after sitting out a season after transferring from Syracuse, but there are a number of teammates with whom she has yet to practice.
Whalen was expecting a lot from incoming freshmen Smith, Caroline Strande and Hedman. Smith has yet to play, but will be available Wednesday. Strande made her first appearance Sunday. Scalia should be available Wednesday, too.
So Whalen has gone from seven players in the opener to eight Sunday to perhaps 10 being available for Michigan State. Even if Mershon gets her waiver — which could happen soon — and Bagwell-Katalinich returns, the fact remains that they really haven't practiced together much.
"Usually, by now, we would have that chemistry on the court," said senior Gadiva Hubbard. "But certain situations have happened. It's been very hard. People have not seen what we can do, what kind of team we can be. I promise you, when we get everybody back together, and in sync, people will see it."
But it will take time. As the only healthy point guard, Jasmine Powell has had to play nearly every minute the first two games. Smith is an able backup, but it's hard to make a college debut in the Big Ten.
For Whalen, it has been a never- ending game of clearing hurdles. Back from the November pause to practice. Seven players for the opener, eight Sunday, perhaps 10 Wednesday, when fans might see a starting lineup of Powell, Scalia, Klarke Sconiers, Sissoko and Hubbard.
"You're going to see some games, with everything going on, where there are some tough nights," Whalen said. "But give us some time. We'll be different Wednesday than we were Sunday. We'll be different next week."
At this point Whalen is focusing on her team rather than on the upcoming opponent. Tuesday they ran some drills they would normally do early in camp simply because so many players needed the work. Any available time through this month will be treated as mini-training camps. Until then, there will be growing pains.
"It's going to take some building," Hubbard said. "There may be some times when we have to take a tough loss to learn some things. But we will get there."