Former Howard guard Elijah Hawkins transfers to Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS — Former Howard guard Eljiah Hawkins transferred to Minnesota with two seasons of eligibility left.

The Gophers announced the addition of the 5-foot-11 Hawkins. The native of Washington, D.C., was the leading scorer on a Bison team in 2022-23 that gave the program its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 31 years. Hawkins averaged 12.9 points, 6.0 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 46.6% from 3-point range.

Hawkins is the third incoming transfer to join the Gophers this spring, following guard Mike Mitchell (Pepperdine) and center Jack Wilson (Washington State).

Minnesota finished 9-22 in 2022-23 and had three starters – Jamison Battle (Ohio State), Ta’Lon Cooper (South Carolina) and Jaden Henley (DePaul) – depart as transfers. Freshman Braeden Carrington was the only guard in the rotation last season who’s coming back.

Jamison Battle announces transfer from Minnesota to Ohio State

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s second-leading scorer Jamison Battle  decided to transfer to Ohio State for his final college season, the fifth-year forward announced on his Instagram account.

The 6-foot-7 Battle was a preseason All-Big Ten pick who missed the first four games of the season with a foot injury and played through back trouble down the stretch. He averaged 12.4 points per game with career-low shooting rates of 37.1 percent from the floor and 31.1 percent from 3-point range. He made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Rutgers on March 2.

Gophers coach Ben Johnson said after Battle participated in the team’s senior day ceremony that he was leaning toward turning pro, but he entered the portal to keep his options open.

Battle had a superb debut season with the Gophers in 2021-22, when he averaged 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game with 36.6% shooting from 3-point range. The Minnesota native transferred home after playing his first two seasons at George Washington.

The Gophers finished 9-22 overall in 2022-23 and in last place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes were second-to-last before winning three games at the Big Ten Tournament to reach the semifinals. They finished 16-19.

Minnesota hires West Virginia’s Plitzuweit to replace Whalen

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Minnesota hired West Virginia head coach Dawn Plitzuweit on Saturday to a six-year contract, turning to another leader with strong regional ties to try to lift up the lagging program.

Plitzuweit, who replaces Lindsay Whalen, has 16 years of experience as a head coach with a career record of 356-141 at four schools. She spent just one season with the Mountaineers, who as a 10th seed lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 7 seed Arizona on Friday.

Prior to that, Plitzuweit took South Dakota to the NCAA Tournament in four of her six seasons there. She was a three-time winner of the Summit League Coach of the Year award with the Coyotes, who reached the Sweet 16 in 2022.

Plitzuweit also spent four seasons at Northern Kentucky and five seasons at Grand Valley State, which won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2006. Between those stops, she was an assistant at Michigan.

The 50-year-old native of West Bend, Wisconsin, has also worked as an assistant at Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and Green Bay.

“This is a homecoming of sorts, and Minnesota is a program that I am very familiar with from my previous time in the surrounding area and in the Big Ten,” Plitzuweit said in a statement. “I am looking forward to getting back to the area and to meet the team, alumni and fans. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with local high school and club coaches. I can’t wait to get to work.”

The university scheduled a news conference on Monday afternoon to introduce Plitzuweit. Terms of her contract weren’t immediately available. Whalen’s base salary this season was $547,000.

Whalen’s departure was described by Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle as a mutual decision, but it seemed like she wasn’t ready to leave. She was supposed to appear at a news conference with Coyle on March 2 when the change was announced, but later said she was too emotional to participate.

Whalen was hired five years ago with no previous coaching experience. But she is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and led her home-state Gophers to their only Final Four appearance as a player in 2004, going on to star for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA and for the U.S. national team in the Olympics.

Whalen went 71-76 with Minnesota, including a 32-58 record in Big Ten play and no NCAA Tournament appearances. The Gophers made it to the NCAAs twice in four years under Whalen’s predecessor, Marlene Stollings, their only appearances in the last 14 seasons.

Whalen brought in a highly regarded freshman class this season, with four in-state players including leading scorer Mara Braun. The Gophers’ 11-19 season ended with a first-round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday. They tied for 12th in the Big Ten with a 4-12 record, their fewest wins in 12 years.

Plitzuweit will be the 13th head coach in Gophers program history. Her teams have been fifth or higher in regular season conference play in all 16 seasons as a coach, including 11 top-three finishes.

“We have everything in place,” Coyle said in early March. “There is no reason why it cannot be done here. That’s the question we have to figure out.”

As a player, Plitzuweit was a two-time Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Michigan Tech with four trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

She and her husband, Jay, have a son, A.J., who plays for South Dakota, and daughter Lexi plays for Grand Valley State.

Minnesota’s Whalen resigns after third straight losing season

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MINNEAPOLIS – Lindsay Whalen, considered the greatest player in Minnesota women’s basketball history, resigned as coach on Thursday after a third straight losing season.

The Gophers’ 11-19 season ended with a first-round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday. They tied for 12th in the Big Ten with a 4-12 record, their fewest wins in 12 years.

Whalen, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, was hired five years ago with no previous coaching experience. Whalen, who earned a base salary of $547,000 this year, last March was given a contract extension through the 2024-25 season. Athletic director Mark Coyle said Whalen would stay on as a special assistant to the athletics director through April 12, 2025.

Whalen, in a statement, thanked Coyle for the opportunity.

“We did things the right way and created a lot of memories,” she said, “but now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum. I look forward to supporting and cheering on the next head coach.”

Whalen was scheduled to appear at a news conference with Coyle but was a no-show. Coyle said she was busy meeting with her staff. Whalen, in a tweet Thursday night, said her absence was due to her being overcome with emotion in the elevator on her way to the news conference. “I am a human being,” she wrote.

Coyle, when pressed on whether the parting was a mutual decision, said he and Whalen had a long meeting three or four weeks ago to discuss the situation.

“Together, we just felt like now is the right time for her to step down,” Coyle said. “She’s still going to be part of our program. She is so much loved in these hallways and these buildings. Obviously, she’s an icon. She’s on the Mount Rushmore in the state of Minnesota.”

Whalen grew up an hour west of Minneapolis, in Hutchinson, and played for the Gophers from 2000-04. She left as the program’s all-time points leader, second in assists and thirds in steals. Her No. 13 jersey was retired.

She won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 and played for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.

Whalen returned to the university in 2018 after coach Marlene Stollings left for Texas Tech, and Whalen’s first team went 21-11 and 9-9 in the Big Ten.

The following four seasons did not come close to matching the first. The Gophers never played in an NCAA Tournament or finished higher than sixth in the Big Ten. Whalen was 71-76 overall and 32-58 in conference games.

The Gophers regressed this season after losing top players Sara Scalia and Destiny Pitts to the transfer portal. Whalen brought in the 10th-ranked group of freshmen in the country, according to ESPN, and three of them were starters.

Mara Braun’s scoring average of 15.6 points per game ranked second among Big Ten freshmen. Fellow freshman Mallory Heyer and sophomore Alanna Micheaux also were double-digit scorers.

“I don’t think we’re starting over,” Coyle said. “I think we have a really great core group of people here who have made progress throughout this past year and it’s our job to find a coach who can continue to build upon the success.”

Minnesota has struggled to sustain success in both men’s and women’s basketball, a fact Coyle acknowledges. The men’s team is 7-20 overall and last in the Big Ten at 1-16 under second-year coach Ben Johnson.

Coyle said the programs have ample administrative support but have been well under .500 in Big Ten play over the last quarter-century.

“We have everything in place,” he said. “There is no reason why it cannot be done here. That’s the question we have to figure out.”

Minnesota-Illinois postponed for COVID-19 in Gophers program

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s game at Illinois that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program.

The announcement was made Monday by Minnesota, which didn’t specify how many players would have been unable to play.

The Gophers (7-15, 1-11) had only eight available scholarship players for their last game, an 81-46 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Dawson Garcia (ankle) has missed the last four games, and Braeden Carrington (leg) has missed the last six. Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen will not play this season while recovering from knee injuries.

The game will be rescheduled by the Big Ten, with input from both schools.

Minnesota is next scheduled to host Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (16-7, 7-5) will host No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday.

Illinois wins 4th straight, 78-60 over Minnesota

Penn State v Illinois
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MINNEAPOLIS – Matthew Mayer had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Illinois used a big second half to beat Minnesota 78-60 on Monday night for its fourth straight victory.

Illinois pulled away in the opening five minutes of the second half with a 12-0 run to build a 47-36 lead. The Illini extended it to 55-41 after nine minutes as Minnesota made just 3 of 13 shots to start the half.

Illinois dominated the paint with a 54-28 edge in points and 50-29 in rebounds. The Illini held Minnesota to 36% shooting, including 3 of 13 from 3-point range. The Gophers were also 15 of 25 at the free-throw line.

Illinois has won five consecutive games in the series – and three straight at Minnesota.

Dain Dainja and Terrence Shannon Jr. each added 11 points for Illinois (13-5, 4-3 Big Ten), which hosts Indiana on Thursday. Freshman Jayden Epps scored 10 points and Mayer, a super senior, recorded his first career double-double.

Mayer made an open 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds of the first half to give Illinois a 35-32 lead. Minnesota is now 0-8 this season when trailing at halftime.

Dawson Garcia had 17 points and Ta’lon Cooper scored 16 points for Minnesota (7-9, 1-5), which is back in action on Thursday against No. 3 Purdue.