MINNEAPOLIS - The sample size is small, but Lindsay Whalen might have had the toughest day of her college coaching career on Thursday in just her second season with the University of Minnesota women’s basketball program.
Last Friday, Whalen suspended star guard Destiny Pitts for “conducting unbecoming a member of the program.” Wednesday, Pitts herself took to Twitter to announce she would be leaving the Minnesota program in her junior season and entering the NCAA’s transfer portal. Pitts said she was suspended for “bad body language,” and that she was “shocked and blindsided by the news.”
Another gut punch came for the Gophers on the court Thursday night. They led Iowa by as many as 15 points and took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter before losing to the Hawkeyes, 76-75.
“Everybody in the locker room, we’re going to continue to work together and keep working and that’s all we can do,” Whalen said after the loss.
Pitts was suspended for last Sunday’s game at Illinois. Taiye and Kehinde Bello did not make the trip, and were protesting the suspension. Taiye Bello returned to the lineup on Thursday, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench.
Senior Jasmine Brunson, who scored 16 points and played all 40 minutes Thursday, said it’s important for the team to stick together amid its current losing streak, and losing their best player.
“Just stick together because at the end of the day, it’s a sisterhood. All the adversity, we’re going to face it together. We’re going to have to have each other’s back, and I’m very proud of this team,” Brunson said. I’m so proud of this team, we’re fighting and we’re sticking together.”
Several players took to Twitter after learning of the Pitts’ transfer news to react. Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia and Kehinde Bello all tweeted their support for Pitts.
Whalen was consistent in her response to the Pitts news, saying she wishes her the best.
“It’s a situation where we’ve had some discussions and at the end of the day, her deciding to go into the transfer portal, we wish her nothing but the best for her future,” Whalen said.
The Gophers were able to set the drama aside for Thursday's game, and nearly pulled off a win that would've snapped a four-game losing streak. They just didn't finish, but they say they know what they're capabale of.
"Off the court we have each other’s backs. We try to stay positive, just be there for one another and I think that’s showing on the court," said redshirt junior guard Gadiva Hubbard, who had 18 points Thursday night.
So in just her second season, is Whalen potentially losing her team? It’s a little early for that, and her focus is on getting the Gophers ready for Purdue.
This week’s developments show life isn’t easy as a college basketball coach, even if you’re Whalen, one of the most beloved basketball figures in Minnesota. She had her Lynx jersey retired last summer, and will always be a legend with the Gophers.
Now, she’s dealing with a five-game losing streak and doing everything she can to avoid turmoil in the locker room
“Trying to put the players on the court in the best position possible and give them the opportunity to go out and play the game that they love. Doing it together and battling hard every night,” Whalen said.