Once again starting, Nolan shows her value

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 - 11:07pm

Sophomore guard has found a jack-of-all-trades role this year.

Sophomore guard has found a jack-of-all-trades role this year. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

It would be fair to say that when the 2019-20 season ended, Maddie Nolan expected to be in the starting lineup for the Michigan women’s basketball team’s opening game this season. 

The sophomore guard had a steadily increasing role as a freshman and capped it off by starting the Wolverines’ final 11 games. She performed best at the highest moments, recording career-highs of 13 points and eight rebounds in Michigan’s upset win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. Needless to say, she was, and still is, one of Michigan's most promising young players. 

All offseason, the Wolverines supposedly had a fully-intact, returning starting five — even fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson — a group heralded as the team’s strength. 

That changed when junior guard Leigha Brown — an older, more versatile player — transferred from Nebraska and became eligible to play this season. And like that, Nolan was sitting on the bench again.

Nolan is no stranger to coming off the bench, doing so at Michigan and for the majority of her senior year in high school after she suffered a severe knee injury. She powered through and worked her way back on the court less than six months later. 

When Brown got a waiver of eligibility for this season, it became evident she would start. Brown joined Johnson as the other starting wing, and Nolan started this season coming off the bench. About halfway through Michigan’s first game, Johnson went down with a leg injury. Nolan was back in. 

Injected into the starting lineup for the Wolverines’ most recent game against Oakland, Nolan once again shined, showing she is a valuable asset in all phases of the game. She ended her first start of the season with only three points, via one 3-pointer, but her coach still lauded her offensive contributions. 

“Maddie Nolan stepped in and he was absolutely outstanding,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the win against Oakland. “She led our team in rebounding with nine. She made a big three. She had no turnovers. … I thought she really did a great job stepping in for us.”

With the timetable on Johnson’s injury unclear, Nolan may be needed in the starting lineup and will likely play more minutes. Although she gives up a bit of height to Johnson, Nolan makes up for whatever length she doesn’t have at 5-foot-9with her scrappy, ball-hungry playing style. She is one of the team’s best rebounders and is an excellent ball handler. 

“She has a knack for being active and really getting in there and causing havoc,” Barnes Arico said after Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament game against Northwestern last year.

Nolan’s not afraid to shoot in clutch moments Often, she hits clutch shots almost immediately when she gets on the court. She hit a timely 3-pointer to seal the Wolverines victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Her aggressive play and ability to space the floor opens up the paint for junior forward Naz Hillmon. Hillmon is incredibly efficient no matter how much attention she gets from opposing defenses, but the guards can make getting to the basket easier for her by stretching out defenses and rendering them unable to pack the paint. 

Starting the last 11 games last year came out of necessity due to Kayla Robbins’s injury. But Nolan rewarded Barnes-Arico’s faith in her — over the final five games of the season, she averaged 10.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in a whopping 35.8 minutes per game, showing that she could  play hard minutes when needed. 

Those 35.8 minutes per game down the stretch come just over a year after Nolan’s knee injury where the timetable for return was listed as six to 18 months. 

“In the beginning of the year, as a coach, I wasn’t even sure if she was gonna be able to get any minutes,” Barnes Arico said after Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament game against Northwestern last year. “Now here we are. Six weeks ago she was playing 30 seconds a game and now she’s playing 38 minutes a game. But just perseverance, hard work, and playing with a ton of confidence.”

That confidence is already proving wonders for her play.

“Last year I came in and I wasn't as confident as I could’ve been,” Nolan said at the beginning of the preseason. “Now this year knowing what I’m capable of doing and being whatever the team needs me to be.”

Nolan isn’t Akienreh Johnson and no one expects her to be. She plays situationally to the multitude of strengths she possesses as a do-it-all guard. She might not be the team’s leading scorer on a given night, but it’s more of a given than it has been ever before in Nolan’s career that she will stuff the stat sheet and make plays. 

“I knew I’m not necessarily the biggest scorer,” Nolan said after her first career start on Feb. 6. “I’m trying to help the team in other ways.”

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