A gritty, defensive first start for Maddie Nolan
Maddie Nolan stood on the court, lined up just outside the center circle. For the first time in the freshman’s career, she waited for the tip-off from the floor.
Her first start wasn’t an expected, predetermined ordeal — she was told earlier Thursday.
On Wednesday, sophomore guard Danielle Rauch injured her hand in practice, two weeks after the starting position fell in her lap when senior Kayla Robbins tore her ACL.
With just seven players available against the team right above it in the standings, Michigan — with the help of Nolan — held its own Thursday on the way to a 66-63 victory over Purdue.
Nolan started the year on the bench, seeing minutes late in games when the margin of victory for the Wolverines was insurmountable. Against lesser opponents, she wasn’t flashy. Nolan made the plays she needed to and did what she was told. In close games, she didn’t play.
“Nolan had a tremendous high school career and then she suffered a significant injury, and coming back from that injury she wasn’t even sure what she was going to be able to do,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “When she got to Michigan this fall, we weren’t sure what her basketball career was going to look like, and she’s really done a tremendous job.”
But as the season progressed, her work ethic in practice earned her more and more minutes. In the last couple of games, Nolan has been one of the first players off the bench.
Then, on Thursday, she played 28 minutes.
Locking down the defensive end, Nolan refused to let the Boilermakers get hot, even as they targeted her. Just over a minute in the game, she chased down a shooter at the 3-point line and smacked away the ball.
A couple minutes later, Purdue looked to score a quick bucket after a defensive rebound left most of the Wolverines behind the play. Senior guard Akienreh Johnson and Nolan stood alone against two Boilermakers and, upon Johnson’s direction, Nolan took on the driving Karissa McLaughlin. The normally easy layup barely made it above McLaughlin’s head before it was swatted away.
These two early plays set the tone for the 5-foot-9 Nolan, who finished the game with a team high of four blocks. She even rejected a shot from the 6-foot-4 Fatou Diagne.
“In high school, you obviously play against a lot of smaller kids so I could block some of them, but not here,” Nolan said. “I don’t think I’ve had four blocks in the whole of practice. … I think I just knew I needed to get defensive stops and that was my mindset.”
Nolan also pulled her weight on the glass, striking like a snake when the ball fell from the rims. Whether she was at the 3-point arc defending the shot, or bodying up a player on the post, she found the ball.
“We need five people to crash the defensive boards, we need people to crash the offensive boards,” Nolan said. “I know I’m not necessarily the biggest scorer, but I’m trying to help the team in other ways, like rebounding was what I came in focused on.”
Nolan ended the game with two points, six rebounds and four blocks. She wasn’t flashy and didn’t make much of an offensive impact. But she found ways to contribute when a team suffering from injuries needed her.
As the clock ticked down, and Purdue worked its way into the game, Barnes Arico trusted Nolan. Her fight and her grit were exactly what Michigan needed to find a way out of the game with a win.