EVANSTON- The Northwestern Wildcats have a new lease on life after their overtime victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes this past Sunday. Now that the Cats’ (11-14 overall, 2-10 Big Ten) have broken their 10-game losing streak, they have a newfound sense of energy and purpose.
One of the reasons why Northwestern has been able to endure the hard times is junior center Alex Olah. Olah has scored in double figures in three of NU’s last five games, including 11 points and 13 rebounds against Iowa.
His recent consistency makes him Northwestern’s second leading scorer (11 points per game) and top rebounder (6.5 RPG). He’s also given his team a reason to believe and motivation for the rest of the season.
“One of my goals is to average double-doubles” said Olah when asked about his recent production. “It hasn’t happened as often as I want it to, but I’m trying to be consistent and help my team as often as I can” he added.
What’s been noticeable is that the Romanian native, who only averaged six points per game as a freshman and just nine as a sophomore, has been more visible on the floor. He wants the ball more and he’s been making the effort to be more physical and aggressive against opposing teams.
“(I’ve) been wanting the ball more and playing more aggressive” Olah said before Tuesday’s practice, “I put in a lot of work in the preseason” he continued.
It’s been well documented that Olah spent last offseason improving both physically and fundamentally. And in recent weeks, that improvement has become evident.
“(I’ve been) working on my individual skills, (working on) being more explosive, losing more weight and just working on my aglilty” Olah said about his training routine. That training has certainly paid off for the 21-year-old….. He was 280 pounds when he first arrived in Evanston back in 2012, today he weighs 265 and has become quicker on the court.
Olah also gives his teammates credit for his improvement. “I can see the game better now and it’s slowed down for me a little bit” Olah said at Welsh-Ryan Arena. He added, “Having (guards) Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps out there keeping other players away from me with their shooting and passing me the ball helps a lot too.”
Olah has worked his way from obscure unknown, to developing big man, and is now one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten Conference. He’ll have another shot at a double-double on Wednesday night when Northwestern makes their way to the famous Williams Arena for their only meeting with Minnesota this season.
The Wildcats have gone 4-3 in their last seven meetings with the Golden Gophers. Plus, Minnesota is also one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten (allows 66 points per game), one of the worst free throw shooting teams (ranked 10th in the conference), and currently sits eighth in the conference standings (16-10, 5-8).
On the other hand however; the Gophers have won five of their last eight, they’ve averaged close to 65 points per game in their last five contests, and have three players -senior guard Andre Hollins, senior forward Maurice Walker (who will most likely match up with Olah), and junior guard Carlos Morris– averaging double figures on the season.
It’s because of those reasons that Olah, and the rest of the Wildcats, aren’t taking this team lightly. Olah definitely doesn’t expect the trip to Minneapolis to be a walk in the park by any means.
“I’ve seen (Minnesota) play and they’re a really, really good team. We just have to approach the game as we’re going to go there to try and win. We have to have the same mentality we did against Iowa. We have to do (what we did against Iowa) and hopefully we’ll get the victory” he said.
That’s definitely the right attitude to have, especially if you’re looking for your first winning streak in almost two months. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82