Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino gave an update on point guard Nate Mason since his ankle injury in Saturday’s 95-60 win against Florida Atlantic.
Mason's return is crucial for Minnesota's hopes of contending in the Big Ten, which opens play in a week.
Pitino said on WCCO radio over the weekend that Mason is still day-to-day, but he's not seriously hurt and not expected to be out long. Mason returned home to Georgia for Christmas. He was given three days off like the rest of the team before the Gophers return to prepare for this Saturday’s game against Harvard.
“He’ll get some time off,” Pitino said. “I don’t anticipate him missing a whole lot, so dodged a bullet there, which was obviously very, very important.”
Mason rolled his left ankle at the 16:33 mark in the second half last Saturday against Florida Atlantic when he was off balance and planted awkwardly going for a steal. He couldn’t put weight on his left leg and didn’t return after being helped into the locker room.
The 6-foot-2 senior captain had his most impressive first half this season with 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting from three-point range. He finished as the team’s leading scorer despite only playing 21 minutes against the Owls. Pitino said the injury initially looked like Mason hurt his Achilles’ tendon.
“But it was really just kind of like the back part of his ankle,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s nothing too serious.”
The Gophers won their third straight game Saturday – and it was the most impressive performance during that stretch. The Owls were held to just 34 percent shooting (23-for-66) from the field and were edged in rebounding 45-31. Minnesota’s bench also had a 34-9 advantage.
“I thought our approach was very good,” Pitino said. “We’ve been practicing well. Getting through this recent stretch has been huge for us, especially those games where we played five high-major teams in a row. We needed to get back to practicing. We need to get back to just getting better. We’ve gotten better in the last week. That 10-day off break was really, really good for our guys.”
Gophers sophomore forward Michael Hurt is averaging 9.0 points in his first two career starts the last two wins against Oral Roberts and Florida Atlantic.
“The last two games he’s been very good,” Pitino said. “He does something that we’re not great at, which is cutting. He moves the ball really well. It’s not a coincidence he plays 20-something minutes and we had 25 assists or whatever it was. It’s contagious. The other guys can learn from him because he’s got a really good feel for it. I’m happy for him, because he works really hard. He’s taking advantage of a good opportunity.”
MORE TIME FOR HARRIS?
A player who could be seeing more playing time off the bench is freshman Jamir Harris, who scored nine points on 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range Saturday. He’s leading the team shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc this season (Mason is second on the team at 44.2 percent).
“I think the last two games have been good for him,” Pitino said. “He’s a freshman, but he’s one of those guys who is a lethal weapon sitting there on a team that doesn’t shoot the ball well from three. But there are so many other things that go into the game that he’s learning. Him and Isaiah don’t have a clue right now. And that’s Ok. That’s normal. With Jamir, it’s understanding defense. He can do it. He’s willing. He plays hard … When he shoots the ball, it looks good. We have to find minutes for him.”