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Men's Basketball: Hailed as 'Great Teammate,' UConn Veteran Nolan Does the Dirty Work

The senior forward is doing his part to put the Huskies back on track for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Phil Nolan and Sterling Gibbs celebrate after a big play in the Huskies' 68-62 win over Georgetown Saturday.
Phil Nolan and Sterling Gibbs celebrate after a big play in the Huskies' 68-62 win over Georgetown Saturday.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

With UConn up 67-62 with 17 seconds to play, Georgetown knew it had to drive and get fouled if it wanted to get back into Saturday's contest at the XL Center.

Phil Nolan overheard guard L.J. Peak saying he was going to go right at the Huskies' 6-foot-10-inch senior forward.

"I saw that same guy who said that running full speed," Nolan said, "and I'm definitely about to step in front of him and see what happens."

What happened is what usually happens when someone runs full speed at Nolan in the lane. Nolan, stood in the way, smart enough not to hack at Peak, opting instead to let Peak barrel into him and send him crashing to the ground.

The king of the charging foul stepped up again for UConn Saturday.

Nolan's performance against Georgetown in a 68-62 win in Hartford has been hailed as his best performance in a long time for the Huskies. It could be his best showing since the UConn's win over Michigan State in the Elite Eight in 2014. With Amida Brimah out, Nolan is starting to rise to the occasion. His solid play has seen him nearly match his season total for minutes in just the last three games.

After playing only 94 minutes and seeing no time in two of the Huskies' first 16 games, he has played 78 minutes in the last three, all wins for UConn.

His defense has been keeping him on the floor. To have the kind of consistency Nolan has drawing charges, a player needs to have good footwork. UConn coach Kevin Ollie said the footwork Nolan has cannot be taught.

This seemed to click for Nolan when he was asked where he learned his footwork. UConn's happy-go-lucky cult hero couldn't help but laugh.

"I have no clue," Nolan said. "To be honest, I have no clue. I promise you I have no clue. Probably from, as a child, I played around a lot, chasing my little sisters around. I don't know. I did a lot of running as a child. That's all I can say."

Nolan himself has said this with conviction: he is not the team's most talented player. He does not often reach double figures in scoring, and he never has in rebounds. But he commands the respect of his teammates for his willingness to do the dirty work a good team needs done.

"He does a lot of stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet," Shonn Miller said. "He is all about the team. He probably didn't start off the season playing as much as he would have wanted to, but when he was called upon he was ready."

Saturday was only Nolan's third start of the season, the 34th of his career. But he is the kind of hard-working veteran every team should want to have. He started every game in the 2014 postseason, which ended with UConn winning the national championship. If Nolan plays every game through the end of the season, he will be among the top 20 players in UConn history in games played.

"I've been around the block," Nolan said.

His stats against Georgetown could easily go unnoticed, but Nolan has no care for the stats. He wants to win. If that means him standing there and taking 50 charges, getting knocked to the ground possession after possession, that's what he is going to do.

His teammates love it.

"He's just so special in his own way," Rodney Purvis said. "I've never really played with a guy like him. Defensively, he covers up for everybody. He's just a great teammate. He doesn't care about scoring, doesn't care about anything. He just wants to help the team win and go out with a bang."