Whalen: Gophers' top scorer Destiny Pitts remains suspended, Bello sisters return

Lindsay Whalen Gophers women's basketball

The University of Minnesota women’s basketball team will likely be without its leading scorer Thursday night against Iowa as guard Destiny Pitts remains suspended, coach Lindsay Whalen said Wednesday.

Pitts was suspended before the Gophers’ 74-71 loss at Illinois on Sunday for “conduct unbecoming of the program.” The Gophers were also without Taiye Bello and Kehinde Bello, who didn’t make the trip due to unspecified reasons. Whalen said Wednesday the Bello’s and Pitt’s situations are separate, and not related.

Pitts is leading the Gophers in scoring at 16.3 points per game, and it’s not clear if or when she might return. Whalen said she is still a member of the team, but is not practicing. Whalen started her Wednesday news conference with a statement on Pitts and the Bello’s.

“To be a student athlete at the University of Minnesota comes with high standards and expectations. When those are not met, there are consequences. I will always respect the privacy of a student athlete, so I will not go into any detail into what led to my decision or what has transpired since,” Whalen said. “With that said, I can tell you Destiny Pitt’s 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.”

Taiye Bello is Minnesota’s second-leading scorer at 13 points per game, and leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.9 per game. Kehinde Bello has appeared in 14 games, and is averaging 1.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Pitts is also the Gophers’ top perimeter threat, shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point range on the season. Pitts, a junior, ended last season sixth in program history with 171 made three-pointers, was a Second Team All-Big Ten pick last year and two seasons ago, was a unanimous choice for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Whalen took several questions about Pitts from reporters on Wednesday, doing so carefully and saying as much as she could while also keeping the situation as private as possible.

“She’s been someone who’s played a lot of games and had a lot of success here, so we’re continuing to work on things. It’s something that we’re continuing to work through,” Whalen said.

Whalen, in her second year as Gophers’ coach, said she believed Pitts’ suspension is something that can be resolved, but did not offer details or a timeline for that process.

“Yes, but I’m not going to go into any details as to what that is, but yes,” Whalen said.

After winning their Big Ten opener at Penn State, the Gophers have lost four straight games since. Three of the four losses have come by a combined eight points. Minnesota had the ball down one with 12 seconds to play Sunday at Illinois, but came up short in a 74-71 loss without Pitts and Taiye Bello.

It’s the first time Whalen has had to suspend players for disciplinary reasons in her college coaching career. It’s been a tough few weeks for Whalen, with her squad trying to snap a four-game losing skid. Her sole focus is on having the team ready for Iowa Thursday night.

“This is why Mark hired me, to handle difficult situations. It’s the first time I’m going through anything like this, but that’s why they hired me. My job is to make sure that we’re prepared for Iowa and getting ready for that game,” Whalen said.

The Hawkeyes come to Minneapolis having four straight games and in a four-way tie for the Big Ten lead.