"A warrior," Crean was saying to Alex Olah, and he had a valid point. On Saturday night, with the Wildcats' roster depleted, Olah posted what was without question the best game of his career.
More impressive, the seven-footer played 39 minutes—with two sprained ankles. He hurt one against Minnesota, the other against Ohio State, yet gutted out a timely performance that kept his team in the game.
"It shows the growth that he's made over the course of the season," Chris Collins said.
The statistics only add to the story: Olah's shooting is up approximately seven percent from last season, with his rebounding and free throw shooting numbers considerably better.
He's also, somehow, learned how to spread the floor—making him an ideal option for the Collins offense. By adding a three-point shot, he's drawing defenders away from the basket to leave other players with more open looks. Olah hit two of his four shots from behind the arc Saturday.
"[Collins] said whenever I'm open, I can shoot and he trusts me," Olah said.
Though he's been short of excellent this year—still struggling with inconsistency—Olah saw the hype build around him this offseason. He played with the Romanian U20 team and said he returned with newfound "confidence."
"This summer and this fall, Olah was dominant," Tre Demps said. "When he came back from playing with the Romanian team, he was unbelievable... We always know that Olah has it in him."
As the only real post option on this team, Olah faces an additional burden. On Saturday, he was without fellow interior presence Nikola Cerina, who usually contributes 10 or so minutes off of the bench.
In October, Collins spoke of his ideal "four-around-one" offense, which seemed to put a great deal of pressure on Olah. During a five-game stretch from Jan. 18 to Feb. 1, even, he shot just 7-of-32 and struggled to be a consistent offensive option.
But games like Saturday hint at his potential: With two years of eligibility remaining and a likely transfer on the way to help, he's proven himself a solid long-term piece for an improving team.
"It's hard work," Olah added. "Practice, practice. I lost weight and that helped me overall on the court. Just confidence, mostly, that I gained over the summer and a couple of good games that I had."
Olah was the product of Bill Carmody's most clever recruitment. At remote Traders Point Christian Academy (Ind.), the skilled seven-footer never received attention from many other schools. Carmody swept him up because of this potential, and it's starting to be realized at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Despite the final score, it was all about Olah.
"He's a fantastic player," Crean said.
Maybe not, but he's on his way.