The Gophers women’s basketball team will open the season Wednesday against Eastern Illinois with a roster that, because of injuries and illness, has been trimmed to seven available players.
The good news: Coach Lindsay Whalen expects to have her full roster available — perhaps augmented with the addition of forward/center Kayla Mershon, a transfer from Nebraska who has applied for a waiver to eligible this season — by the time the Big Ten season starts Dec. 9 vs. Michigan State.
But until then, Whalen will have to make do with a skeleton crew for the two nonconference games, including Sunday’s game with Drake.
Citing privacy concerns, the Gophers are not specifying what is keeping players out of the lineup this week. But the team did acknowledge it had to pause activities earlier in November after multiple positive tests for COVID-19.
“They’re going to have to fight through some times of real adversity,” Whalen said. “There will be fatigue. They’ll have to stay together, communicate, help each other out.”
Expected to start Wednesday are point guard Jasmine Powell and wings Gadiva Hubbard and Kadi Sissoko. Freshman Erin Hedman and either Grace Cumming or Klarke Sconiers will be in the post.
The only reserves are forward Justice Ross and either Cumming or Sconiers.
Out, either by injury or illness are Sara Scalia, five-star freshman Alexia Smith, transfer post player Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and freshman guard Caroline Strande.
Scalia and Bagwell-Katalinich are expected starters, and Smith figures to get big minutes off the bench when she returns.
This leaves Whalen with a lineup lacking much experience. Powell was an All-Big Ten Conference freshman team member last season and Hubbard is a redshirt senior.
But Sissoko — a former five-star recruit who sat out last season after transferring from Syracuse — hasn’t played in a competitive game for nearly two years; Hedman is a freshman; and both Cumming and Ross are redshirt freshmen who have never played in a college game.
“As a staff we have to be really smart with our substitution pattern,” Whalen said. “And we have to use our timeouts really well. And we’ll also have to play some zone [defense]. It’s a total group effort. We have to be smart.”
The Gophers decided to apply for a waiver for Mershon, a 6-3 center with Big Ten experience who could move into the starting lineup if she is declared eligible. A decision could come this week.
“We feel it makes sense to let every able-bodied person play during a pandemic,” Whalen said.