After a COVID outbreak, Illinois gets back to work in the Big Ten

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CHAMPAIGN – It wasn’t going to be a stretch full of games, but it was going to be an opportunity for the team to get some rest along with some practice time.

But as it has for other programs across the country, COVID-19 has hit Illinois basketball hard, with ten members of the program contracting the virus. That included a number of players, forcing the Illini to cancel their December 29th game against Florida A & M in Champaign while their Big Ten contest against Minnesota was pushed back two days.

Brad Underwood can finally put his team back on the floor on Tuesday against the Gophers in Minneapolis after the outbreak to start the bulk of Illinois’ Big Ten season. It will be their first game since their “Braggin’ Rights” victory over Missouri in St. Louis and after a very interesting few weeks in which the program was on a bit of a COVID-19 pause.

Players were allowed to go home for the Christmas holiday and the outbreak was discovered after they returned, severly limiting practice time before the contest with Minnesota. That’s why conditioning and watching playing time for the players is the top priority for Underwood heading into Tuesday’s game.

“Obviously conditioning is going to be something that’s important and we don’t want to jeopardize our student-athletes long-term by putting them out there, playing at the highest levels. They’re all high-level athletes, and putting them in a situation where they can be hurt because they haven’t had anytime to practice,” said Underwood. “We’ve had a couple of days and that’s what we’ve got.”

Before the outbreak, Illinois had a good start to their Big Ten schedule in December with a home win over Rutgers and then a road triumph against Iowa. Because of their reschedule, the Illini will be back on the floor at home against Maryland on Thursday at the State Farm Center on a night which they’ll honor former All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu.

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