INDIANAPOLIS — Four seconds remained on the shot clock when Maddie Nolan caught a cross-court pass beyond the 3-point arc. The freshman guard pump faked, dribbled once around her defender, pulled up and hit a tough shot as the shot clock expired.
The shot settled the Michigan women’s basketball team down after Northwestern had scored five straight points out of a timeout to cut the Wolverines’ lead to three with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. It also gave Nolan 13 points on the night.
Five minutes later, Michigan again up by just three, Wildcats’ guard Jordan Hamilton tried to get a step on Nolan and drive to the basket. But Nolan — playing with four fouls — stood her ground. When Hamilton went up, Nolan didn’t let her get a shot off, instead forcing the ball out and right into the hands of senior guard Akienreh Johnson.
“She walled up and she went straight up, and there were no fouls down the stretch,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She has a knack for being active and really getting in there and causing havoc, and I think she did a great job of that again tonight.”
Both plays were key in the Wolverines eventual 67-59 win on Friday. And both were plays that Nolan may not have made just a few weeks ago.
When the Wolverines lost to Northwestern on Feb. 13 — Nolan’s third start of the season — she took just two shots and scored just two points. The Wildcats tried to expose her on defense, constantly attacking her, and she couldn’t always handle it. She fouled out in 27 minutes.
But in the games in between, Nolan adapted to her increased role. She began to shoot more, and the shots started to fall. She got more comfortable on defense, fouling less and forcing more turnovers. In the three games prior to Friday, Nolan scored a combined 32 points on 12-for-23 shooting, and racked up seven steals.
“Her confidence is slowly starting to get better every single game,” Johnson said. “She came in not really knowing how she was gonna fit in on the team but then each game with her starting, she’s starting to learn her role and she’s starting to knock down shots.”
Friday, her ascension reached its peak.
Nolan didn’t get on the board until two minutes remained in the first half when Johnson found her open in the corner for a 3-pointer. But from that point, the floodgates opened.
Michigan didn’t start the second half off on the best note. Hamilton knocked down a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give Northwestern a lead entering the second and Johnson picked up her third foul 40 seconds into the half. But Nolan jumpstarted the Wolverines’ offense on their next possession by draining an open jumper from the wing.
From there, Michigan traded baskets with the Wildcats for the next six minutes until Nolan struck again. This time, Hillmon found her open from deep and she canned it, giving the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.
“Obviously playing zone, you usually have a couple more opportunities to shoot the 3-pointers, so I think that just really helped today,” Nolan said. “I’ve been working on shooting threes for a while now, so just having that confidence to knock it down.”
Two minutes later, Nolan caught a cross-court pass from Dilk with a defender closing in. This time she didn’t need the space and canned the 3-pointer with a hand in her face to extend the lead to six. Michigan’s bench erupted.
“I know she’s a money shooter,” freshman guard Michelle Sidor said. “We have full confidence in her when she’s shooting and obviously it just gets our team going.”
When Nolan entered the starting lineup, she wasn’t expected to be much of an offensive contributor. The Wolverines just needed quality minutes after injuries shortened their bench.
But just one month later, Nolan is a true offensive weapon, her success key to Michigan’s postseason potential.
And she’s only getting better.