Injuries likely kept the Gophers from making an NCAA tournament run this year. They were one of the hottest teams in college basketball at the end of the regular season, but they weren't at full strength in the postseason.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said last week that leading scorer Nate Mason still hasn’t participated in full workouts since the season-ending 81-72 NCAA first-round loss March 16 to Middle Tennessee in Milwaukee. Mason, who scored just five points on 2-for-10 shooting that game, tried to play through a hip injury suffered in the second half.
“It was a lot worse injury than even I thought it was,” Pitino told the Star Tribune. “He really toughed it out.”
The All-Big Ten first-team junior guard tweeted last week that he just got “cleared for full go.” But the Gophers don’t have workouts right now with finals.
“You know it’s amazing; he still has not played,” Pitino said last week. “You think about the game. You’ve got to give Middle Tennessee credit but we lose two of our backcourt players (also senior guard Akeem Springs to torn Achilles tendon). Nate was not 100 percent. He toughed it out, but he still has not been able to be cleared to do individuals. Obviously, Akeem gets hurt. You don’t want to use excuses, but we got hit with injuries at the wrong time.”
Pitino said Mason has been doing some standstill shooting drills recently, but there was no reason to rush him into full workouts with the players concentrating on finishing the semester strong in the classroom.
Junior forward Davonte Fitzgerald missed the season with the second major knee injury of his career. But Pitino said he should be fully cleared next month. Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-8 former transfer from Texas A&M, could be a key player off the bench next season.
“I would anticipate probably the middle to end of June,” Pitino said. “We want to slowly bring him along. We’ve done some drills. I know he’s doing great from a rehab standpoint, but we’ll take it slow for him as well. But he looks really, really good.”