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Gophers guard Nate Mason day-to-day with ankle injury

Middle Tennessee v Minnesota

MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 16: Nate Mason #2 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers attempts a shot in the second half against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at BMO Harris Bradley Center on March 16, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota expects guard Nate Mason will return to the court soon, with an ankle injury not as severe as initially thought.

The starter is considered day-to-day after going down on Dec. 23 against Florida Atlanta and receiving an MRI that night.

It appears the first-team All-Big Ten guard will be back on the court soon, maybe as early as Saturday, in the non-conference finale against Harvard.

“We put him through an individual (workout),” said coach Richard Pitino said of the Thursday practice. “We’ll evaluate again today and see from there, so day-to-day. Hopefully, he’ll play. I think if you asked him, he’d say he was going to play.”

Mason is averaging 15.5 points and a team-leading 4.1 assists. He tied a career high with five 3-pointers in last Saturday’s game before exiting with the injury.

Mason got his feet tangled with Florida Atlantic’s Ronald Delph and appeared to step awkwardly on his left foot as he attempted to keep his balance.

After several minutes on the floor, Mason couldn’t put pressure on his left leg while helped to the locker room.

“Anytime somebody’s struggling to get up, you always think the worst thing,” Amir Coffey said.

Then it was a long wait for Pitino to get the news.

“I went out to dinner with the family and just kept checking my phone,” Pitino said. “So it was a big, big sigh of relief. He’s obviously extremely important to our team, and he was playing well.”

A long-term absence for Mason might have meant a starting role for freshman Isaiah Washington, who is shooting 36 percent so far this season.

“It’s his last year,” Dupree McBrayer said of Mason. “You expect all great things from him, so something like that would’ve really been devastating.”

The Gophers (11-3, 1-1) also hope to get McBrayer back from a lower left leg injury that caused him to miss two consecutive games. Minnesota restarts conference play against Illinois on Jan. 3.

“I think when we have a full, healthy team,” Coffey said, “we could be pretty dangerous.”