Phil Nolan Quietly Coming Up Big For UConn

Phillip Nolan, right, is making his presence felt inside for UConn recently. (Cloe Poisson)

HARTFORD — It's a phrase that UConn coach Kevin Ollie uses often to begin making a point:

"You guys don't see it, but …"

He has been using it more and more to make points about Phil Nolan, who is becoming the unofficial chairman of the Huskies' "committee" of big men, leaving his fingerprints on UConn victories in ways that are sometimes obvious, but often not.

"I like that offensive rebound by Phil Nolan," Ollie said, referring to a big play in UConn's 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on Saturday. "I like offensive rebounds. Shabazz [Napier] shot, Phil went and got the basketball. We got outrebounded, but that was big, rebounding the ball. And then, you guys probably didn't see it, Philly, set a great screen for 'Bazz tro get open. That's all Philly, getting him open. And Shabazz will tell you that."

Nolan, a 6-foot-10, 212-pound sophomore from Milwaukee, does not like to talk about himself. When invited to do so, he often gets sheepish, laughs a little. Asked recently if his confidence had reached an all-time high, he laughed and said, "I wouldn't say that. I'm just playing."

But on the court, Nolan has become all business for UConn (20-5, 8-4 American Athletic Conference), which is likely to move up a few spots from No. 24 when the new polls come out on Monday and not very likely to be shoved aside. On Saturday, he was called upon to grapple with Shaq Goodwin, Memphis' 240-pound forward, and Nolan held his ground. Goodwin was 3-for-8 from the floor, with seven points, six rebounds and five blocks in 44 minutes.

"I felt Phil down there a couple of times," Ollie said. "It looked like [Goodwin] was throwing elbows at Phil, but Phil kept fighting."

In the final seconds of regulation, after Nolan's offensive rebound had set up Napier's game-tying three-point play, Nolan and Memphis' David Pellom hit the floor chasing down a loose ball that eventually went to UConn.

"Two dudes dove on the floor," Ryan Boatright said. "It was a close game and we needed that ball."

Nolan's stat line for the game was modest: 1-for-3 from the floor, two points, two rebounds, one steal in 28 minutes. It was up to his teammates to brag on him.

"Philip definitely came in and took care of his minutes," Napier said. "He played Shaq to the best of his abilities. He's one of our best pick-and-roll defenders. He hard-hedges really well and he likes to talk all the time on the court. When we get him the ball he does his best."

Nolan played little until the end of last season, when he played 34 minutes against Providence in the season finale, a grinding overtime win somewhat similar to this Memphis game. He was in the starting lineup early this season, but was eventually replaced by freshman Amida Brimah, a shot-blocking presence.

Coming off the bench since Dec. 28, Nolan has had some of his best games – 11 points, six rebounds and 7-for-7 from the free-throw line against Eastern Washington; eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes against Central Florida on Jan. 11; Ten points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes against Houston Jan. 30; Ten points – 5-for-5 from the floor at UCF on Feb. 9.

On Saturday, Ollie liked what he saw after putting Nolan in early, with just two minutes expired, and stayed with him for the majority of the game, Brimah playing eight minutes, Tyler Olander 11. Napier scored 34 points, and Boatright 21, with screens set by Nolan, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Olander a big factor in that backcourt production. Though the Huskies were badly outrebounded on the stat sheet – 38-28 – Nolan's rebound to set up Napier's game-tying play was undoubtedly the most important of the day. It spoke volumes.

"I just wanted to keep Phil in, and he did a great job," Ollie said. "Whatever you get, take care of your minutes."