EVANSTON, Ill — Alex Olah isn’t particularly quick and he knows it. But the seven-foot sophomore, especially early this season, has found himself in a hurry far too often.
After spending the summer away from Northwestern playing for his native Romania in the FIBA U20 European Championships, Olah was forced to catch up as he adjusted to Chris Collins’ new offensive and defensive philosophies.
Through five games, Olah frequently looked rushed and uncomfortable. Foul trouble, for example, has kept him from developing any type of rhythm.
Before Northwestern’s (4-2) 72-59 win over Gardner-Webb (2-4) on Monday night, Olah reached double figures just once as he averaged 6.4 points per game in under 21 minutes of play.
But against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Olah looked different: composed and patient.
“Alex Olah was the star of the game,” Collins said. “I think people are taking their chances playing one-on-one with Alex. So we’ve talked to him about [it]: ‘Look when you get it, let’s assess what the defense is doing. If they’re not doubling, take your time. You’re a big guy.’"
Repeatedly, Olah caught the ball on the low post, and waited as cutters slashed through the lane and defenders reached at the ball. Once the chaos cleared, Olah became almost unstoppable. The big man finished with a career-high 18 points on 8/11 shooting from the field.
“[The] coaches told me to be more aggressive in the post,” Olah said. “I have to be a presence in the post. Every time I get the ball, I have to try to score. If a double team comes, like Coach said, I have to kick it out. That’s always the thing though. ‘Take your time,’ they say. ‘Take your time.’ And if I take my time and have patience, I think I can score against anybody.”
Olah didn’t settle for jump shots tonight, choosing instead to use his more imposing frame to pound Gardner-Webb inside.
“He gets a bad rap sometimes for not being as physical as maybe he should [be],” Collins said.
Collins is right and physicality is still a point of emphasis for Olah.
“I just try to finish through contact because I need to be more aggressive at the basket,” Olah said. “In the past I was kind of fading away with my hook shots and stuff and now I’m just trying to go to the basket.”
Overall, Northwestern scored 40 of its 72 points in the paint, the team’s highest output of the season.
Considered a skilled offensive player with both go-to post-moves (a drop step to either side of the rim) and counter-moves (a nice hook shot toward the middle of the lane), Olah’s presence was also felt on the defensive end with his five blocks—a career-high—and one steal.
“I had no idea I had  blocks,” Olah said. “The coaches in the locker room were like, ‘Yeah, you had  blocks.’”
The key, he said, was using his length to bother opponents.
“I was just being big,” he said as he waved his massive wingspan as if to demonstrate to the media how “big” he actually is. “I was not jumping or whatever. I was just putting my hands up trying to contest shots… That helped me deflect people’s shots and people were afraid to throw the ball in the post. I was just trying to be big. Be big offensively and defensively.”
Olah and his teammates head west later this week for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational to play Missouri and UCLA on Thursday and Friday respectively. It’s Olah’s first trip to the Sin City.
“First time, I can’t wait. Too bad I’m not 21,” he said while laughing. “It’s a business trip. We are just going to go there and try to win.”