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COVID protocol could mean Illinois wears masks at Minnesota

Sportsnaut
Dec 18, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood directs his players during the second half against the Saint Francis Red Flash at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood directs his players during the second half against the Saint Francis Red Flash at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There might be some masked men in Illinois uniforms Tuesday night.

When the Fighting Illini visit Minnesota for a rescheduled Big Ten Conference game, there could be multiple players donning masks on the court because of COVID-19 protocol.

The game was originally scheduled for Sunday but was postponed because of the pandemic’s effect on the Illinois program. A total of 10 players weren’t available at one point, but coach Brad Underwood said Monday he would have his full roster dressed for the game.

“In some ways, it doesn’t seem a lot different from last year with some of the COVID stuff that obviously is a very hot topic and understandable,” Underwood said. “To say we’re at our peak would probably be stating something that’s not true, being off that long.”

The Illini (9-3, 2-0) were reaching something approaching their peak prior to a break of nearly two weeks. Their last game was an 88-63 whipping of Missouri on Dec. 22 in St. Louis, enabling them to avenge an upset loss last season in the Braggin’ Rights game.

Kofi Cockburn scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for Illinois, upping his season averages to 21.8 points and 12.1 rebounds in his nine games. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer added 22 points, improving his average to 17.3 points per game.

As for the Golden Gophers (10-1, 1-1), they have also sat idle since Dec. 22, when they topped Green Bay 72-56 to continue a surprisingly good start under first-year coach Ben Johnson. Eleven players entered the transfer portal after coach Richard Pitino was dismissed in March, but Johnson has reloaded in a hurry.

Jamison Battle (18.9 ppg, 6.5 rebounds) and Payton Willis (16.3 ppg, 46 percent on 3-pointers) have led Minnesota. Most notably, its defense has held opponents to 24.8 percent 3-point shooting, second in Division I. In contrast, the Illini’s 39.8 percent accuracy on 3-pointers is 11th in Division I.

“We came back still motivated,” Battle said of the long layoff. “We’re doing the same things. We always shoot in practice and go over the offensive and defensive principles.”

–Field Level Media