Ollie, After Win Over Irish, Talks About Reaping What Is Sown With Olander

UConn Vs. Notre Dame

UConn forward Tyler Olander drives to the basket past Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley during the second half. (Richard Messina, Hartford Courant / January 12, 2013)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. —

Flush with a most fruitful victory over a ranked team on the road, Kevin Ollie, that noted farmer out of South Central Los Angeles, was talking about reaping what is sown.

"Tyler Olander was wonderful," Ollie said after UConn had knocked off No. 17 Notre Dame 65-58 Saturday at the Joyce Center. "Looking aggressive, looking like he wanted the challenge.

"I always talk about time, seed and harvest. The seed goes first. Then you have the time. Then you have a harvest. He's not finished yet, but I really enjoyed his harvest today. He has been putting the time in. He has been putting the seed in. No matter what we say to him, no matter if we take him out of the starting lineup. He comes out the next practice and works his butt off."

Olander, who finished with a career-high 16 points in an old Hoosier, farmboy-style matchup against Jack Cooley, has grown as high as Iowa corn. Yet it would be no exaggeration to say until the past few games the harvest has not matched the time. A lot of seeds just didn't grow.

The Wake Forest seed for one, the N.C. State for another, there were nights when Olander, 6-9, 225 pounds, seemed to get pushed around, others when he got into foul trouble. With Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith gone, the Huskies have been screaming for an inside presence. Olander, who grew up in Mansfield only a few miles from UConn, hadn't gotten more than four field goals in a game since Dec. 3, 2011, against Arkansas. His 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds entering the game were nearly identical to last season's 4.2 and 3.9 output. Not good enough.

"Having a solid big man, a consistent big man, is something this team has been missing," Olander said. "Some nights it has been Enosch Wolf's night. Some nights it has been my night. Some nights neither of us has shown up at all. I think both of us can be more consistent."

Cooley, a preseason Big East first-team pick, is tied for second nationally with 10 double doubles. Well, Olander opened the game by blocking his shot and ended the game by knocking the ball away from Jerian Grant on his drive to the hoop — scored a steal. In between, Olander hit 8 of 9 shots to go with seven rebounds. He was outstanding. This was his best day since he walked up the hill from E.O. Smith and onto the UConn campus.

"Olander was fabulous," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Has to be his best game."

Has to be, right Tyler?

"Yep," Olander said.

"Tyler works extremely hard all the time and I'm just proud to see it pay off finally," said Ryan Boatright, who sank four free throws in the final minute to finish off the Irish in his homecoming to the Chicago area. "He needed this. He has got his confidence going, so hopefully he can carry it on into the next few games."

Anybody who watches the Huskies knows that Shabazz Napier and Boatright make them tick. The guards also cannot do it alone. And that's what makes DeAndre Daniels' play against DePaul and Olander's stunning performance against the Irish so vital.

"I just wanted Tyler to go to work down there," Ollie said. "I know what he can do on the offensive end. It was a matchup where he could get deep post-up position and we went to a couple of our favorite plays. Shabazz and my coaching staff did a good job of recognizing it. He made some plays. He made some plays on the pick-and-roll, too.

"Once you get a couple of layups that rim got real big for him."

The basket never looked bigger than with 8:17 left when Olander rolled to an open spot, Boatright found him, Notre Dame didn't get to him quickly enough and the big guy made the Irish pay. UConn suddenly up four. Time out Brey. How many times before had a ranked team ever called an unplanned timeout on a 17-foot jumper by Olander?

"Probably never," Olander said, smiling.

Brey took Cooley out early in the second half and that's when Olander started to heat up. Cooley re-entered and didn't stop him. Olander always has had a nice jumper, but on this day he asserted himself confidently around the basket like he never had before.

"I just came out in the second half, made a couple of moves, got into a little groove," Olander said. "I didn't look at the matchup beforehand and say I'm going to go off and have a great game. I knew Jack Cooley is a great player.

"Cooley [who entered averaging 15.2 and 11.2 rebounds] is having a double-double year. He's probably one of the best centers in the country, definitely in the Big East. We said if we can take him out of the game, limit his rebounds, we put ourselves in a good chance to win. Coach always says take care of your minutes."

Olander, who had been averaging only 14.5 minutes, took very good care of his 31 on this day.

"His self-fortitude," Ollie said when asked what has impressed him most about Olander recently. "Just his belief, 'I can get it done.' Cooley is a big-time matchup. I thought it was a standstill today."

I thought Olander outplayed Cooley, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.

"I'm so proud of him," Ollie said. "But now he can't lay on it. He's got to keep building on it. We've got to get back into him, telling him, 'You can't lay on this. We want to see consistency.' But it's him. He believed in himself. It's a physiology. It's a mind-set. He believes. I love him for it. It's great to see him smile."

In the past two games, Olander has 26 points and 12 rebounds. In the six games before that, he had 16 points and 16 rebounds. Before this past week, it would be fair to say Wolf had outplayed Olander. Ollie, in fact, started the German three games after the loss to N.C. State. The coaches clearly hoped it would light a fire. Olander doesn't deny their challenge and the one posed by additional minutes for Wolf served as a stark message.

"It definitely has," Olander said. "From the first time in practice when I got taken out of the starting five for a little, it made me realize I'm not doing all the right things I'm supposed. Things weren't working out for me in the beginning of the season. I stuck with it, got in the gym and it feels good to have hard work finally pay off."

So now the Huskies, who have outrebounded three of their past four opponents after doing it only once in the first 11 games, head back to play No. 3 Louisville Monday night at the XL Center. Without a postseason, these are the games the team lives for. There is no March for the Huskies, but without a postseason they are proving to be an awfully tough out in January.

"This is the character we have developed," Olander said. "This is the image we want to show. We have a lot of tough kids who want to win and see each other succeed. We want to show everybody that despite everything that has been said about us we can be a good team."

And with that, Olander left to tend his harvest.

CHICAGO