BATON ROUGE, La. — Once the NCAA Tournament arrives, the ups and downs of the college basketball season don’t matter. The next game isn’t guaranteed, and on the biggest stage, players and teams either rise or crumble.
And Friday, Maddie Nolan seized the moment.
In the Michigan women’s basketball team’s 71-59 victory over UNLV in the first round of March Madness, the senior guard did it all for the sixth-seeded Wolverines. Nolan lit up the 11th-seeded Rebels, tying a team-high 18 points on 70% shooting — including going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
“She saved us a couple times,” graduate forward Emily Kiser said postgame. “When that score starts to get closer and closer, a three is huge. It’s just a huge momentum change. So Maddie hits those in huge moments. Didn’t really miss a whole lot either today, so very helpful.”
It was helpful to say the least. In the third quarter, when UNLV cut Michigan’s lead to four points, Nolan hit a 3-point dagger to make it a two-possession game. Four minutes later, she drained another from the exact same spot, extending the Wolverines’ lead to double-digits.
Nolan’s stats leap out of the box score, but the intangibles are somehow even more impressive. In addition to scoring at all three levels, Nolan crashed the defensive boards, directed traffic with and without the ball and set her team up to win. Whether she stepped into the point guard spot to alleviate pressure on her teammates, defended the Rebels’ best guard or bolstered her teammates’ confidence, Nolan played some of her best basketball Friday.
And as she builds momentum, she doesn’t show any signs of stopping.
“There are different points in people’s career where you sit back as a coach and you go, ‘Holy cow, like where did this come from?’ And that has been Maddie Nolan probably the last three weeks,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “… Her confidence right now is at another level where she’s like, ‘Give me the ball. I’m a playmaker. I can score at all three levels. I can shoot it. … I will do whatever our team needs me to do to help us be successful.’ She’s just playing at a whole ‘nother level.”
In Nolan’s first three years with the Wolverines, she was largely defined by her 3-point shooting ability. She delivered those shots against the Rebels, but she also showcased the adaptability in her game that she’s displayed all season.
Nolan can score from all three levels — and she did Friday. Nolan can play lockdown defense — and she did Friday. Nolan can play multiple positions, sliding into wherever her team needs her most — and she did Friday. Nolan can also be a coach on the floor — and she was Friday.
“She does so many other things that no one else on the outside sees,” fifth-year wing Leigha Brown said. “Whether that’s asking her to play point guard a little bit tonight, whether that’s asking her to guard the other team’s best player. So she does so many things. Her leadership, she’s always in people’s ears with things she sees and I think that’s something that makes her so special — her basketball IQ and her ability to bring that to other people.”
For a player known to many for her shooting, the little things have a tendency to get overlooked. All game, when Nolan received a pass behind the arc, teammates and fans threw their hands into the air and the crowd quieted, anticipating a 3-point dagger. But when Nolan didn’t have the ball in her hands, there was just as much to observe.
After pulling a UNLV defender into the corner, Nolan pointed across the court, showing her teammates where to send the ball. When Nolan subbed out of the game, she sat right next to the coaches, eyes darting back and forth, taking in everything the Rebels were doing and figuring out how to take advantage when she went back in. And when teammates hit big shots, Nolan was one of the loudest voices celebrating.
So it was fitting that Nolan grabbed a defensive rebound with 20 seconds remaining and the outcome of the game already a foregone conclusion. As a wave of excitement washed over the Michigan bench, Nolan calmly dribbled out the clock. She didn’t need to do anything more because she had already made a statement:
It’s March Madness of her senior season, and Maddie Nolan isn’t done yet.