The COVID-19 virus, which hit the Gophers women's basketball team so hard before this season even began, has come back to hit them again at season's end.
The Gophers' home game with Michigan on Sunday was supposed to be the team's home finale. But it won't be played.
Because of COVID-19 issues within the Gophers program, after consulting with Michigan the two teams agreed to cancel the game. Because there is so little time left in the season, it will not be rescheduled. That means both games against the Wolverines were lost this season; the Gophers game at Michigan scheduled for Feb. 4 was postponed because of COVID-19 issues within the Michigan program.
At this point the Gophers' regular-season finale at Illinois at 4 p.m. Friday is still on.
Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen was not available for comment.
The women's basketball team became the third Gophers squad to miss competition this weekend. The men's hockey series at Penn State was postponed because of COVID issues at Penn State, and the volleyball team's home series against Michigan was postponed because of COVID issues at Michigan.
For Whalen's team, it's a disappointing bookend for a truncated season.
The pandemic affected players' ability to prepare for the season and delayed fall workouts. And then multiple positive tests for the virus forced the program to pause in early November — an issue that also hit the men's team — before the women were able to resume workouts Nov. 13.
But even then the team wasn't all the way back. The virus and injuries severely limited Whalen's ability to hold practices; at times there were only three healthy players available. That meant much of the work through the end of November consisted of individual skills-based workouts.
The team barely had a handful of practices before opening the season at home Dec. 2 against Eastern Illinois, a game for which Whalen had only seven healthy players available. That number increased to nine for a game Dec. 6 against Drake, which was followed by a difficult start to the Big Ten schedule for a Gophers team still trying to get back to full strength with limited practice time to integrate a number of new faces — both transfers and freshmen.
After a 1-6 start to the Big Ten schedule the Gophers went 6-4 over their next 10 games, with two victories over Nebraska and a three-game winning streak over Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue. Minnesota completed the season sweep of Nebraska on Wednesday and was slated to take on No. 12 Michigan — and conference player of the year candidate Naz Hillmon — Sunday at Williams Arena.
Assuming the COVID-19 issues can be overcome, the Gophers would finish Friday at Illinois, then take part in the Big Ten Conference tournament, which will be held March 9-13 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.