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Penn State-Northwestern preview: Alex Olah a game-time decision

Northwestern should earn the victory Saturday if it executes well and does not turn the ball over.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON — Northwestern senior center Alex Olah is a game-time decision for the Wildcats as they host Penn State Saturday in a primetime matchup on ESPNU. Olah has been sidelined for six games with a foot injury, but is progressing.

"There's still a little soreness," Olah said Friday. "It takes like six weeks for something like this to heal. I'm like three-and-a-half weeks in." More notes and quotes from Olah below.

Saturday's game is one Northwestern should win, even without Olah, but head coach Chris Collins and the Wildcats are wary of any trap game potential, given next Tuesday's game at No. 3 Maryland.

"We're not looking past anybody," Collins said Friday. "We're experienced enough to know that we feel we can play with anybody, but I think our guys also know we can lose to anybody. There's no overlooking anyone."

Northwestern has won 12 of its past 14 games, the two losses coming consecutively to Ohio State and a top-five Maryland. In their two most recent games the Wildcats have turned in impressive performances, topping Minnesota at The Barn by more than 20 and then beating a Wisconsin team going through a bit of a transition year, helmed by Greg Gard as Bo Ryan's replacement.

On the other hand, Penn State is in the midst of a tough stretch, having lost four of five. The Nittany Lions' previous two losses have been to ranked Purdue and Michigan State squads, and by almost 20 and 30 points, respectively. But coach Patrick Chambers has done a nice job energizing the program since taking over in 2011. This year's freshman recruiting class was the school's first top-30 class in their history and two of their top three leading scorers are underclassmen.

The Nittany Lions' most talented players are 6-foot-6 forward Brandon Taylor and 6-foot-1 guard Shep Garner. Taylor, a senior from Tabernacle, N.J. leads the team in points per game and rebounds per game, at 16.6 and 6.0, respectively. For more on Garner, here are Friday's notes and quotes from media availability:

Notes and quotes

- Collins on Shep Garner: "He can really score. Pat gives him amazing freedom, and when you have a guy who's wired with a personality like Shep, you give him that freedom to do what he wants out there, then he's really dangerous. He may shoot from 27 feet. He's capable of throwing up a big night."

- Collins said he thought Joey van Zegeren's last three or four games are "the best he's played for us. It's a great testament to him, because he's not able to do a lot in practice. We want to limit the pounding on that foot." Collins said van Zegeren is doing a lot of off-the-court workouts in the pool and on an exercise bike.

- Collins on the zone, which is a blend between man and zone: "I don't really know what it is to be honest." He's been looking for a name for it, and we've got a few ideas in the works. "It's kind of morphed from a 2-3 zone to a matchup zone."

- Collins said the key in the zone is communication, especially from Sanjay Lumpkin and Aaron Falzon on the wings, "because they're the guys that see the cutters."

- Collins also said because it's more of a matchup zone, rebounding is easier, not only because there are more specific box out responsibilities, but because the big guys are always inside around the basket.


- Olah on the initial development of the injury: "I don't remember. I remember playing against Sacred Heart, and then we had out Christmas break, and right after the game I had a three hour car drive to Indiana, and the next morning I woke up and my foot hurt, and it was swollen." He then had an MRI after the break, and was diagnosed with a stress-related injury.

- Olah has been running on a sort of anti-gravity treadmill that allows you to only put some fraction of your full body weight on your feet. "You run on like 60, 70, 80 percent of your weight," Olah said.

- Olah said his minutes will have to gradually increase once he gets back. "It's hard to not do anything for almost a month, and then go in and play 30 minutes," Olah said. "It's not possible."

- Olah: "We have to be careful with it. Coach and I were talking about it. He broke his foot in college, and he told me his experience. He came back too fast, and he had a horrible season because he was always thinking about his foot. He said, 'when you think about that, you don't play well.'"