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Northwestern freshman Alex Olah learning ropes in rugged Big Ten

Updated: March 3, 2013 6:16AM

It was a teaching moment. It was also a kick in the pants.

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody shouldn’t have to remind freshman center Alex Olah of the lesson he learned in the team’s loss Wednesday at No. 1 Michigan.

‘‘It’s not like he set the world on fire in the second half, but he played much better,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘There was an aggression there we didn’t see in the first half. He recognizes that.’’

At halftime of the game against the Wolverines, Carmody urged Olah to roll to the basket more aggressively. Olah responded by scoring six of the Wildcats’ first eight points in the second half. It will take a similar commitment for Olah to hold his own against fellow freshman A.J. Hammons when Purdue (11-10, 4-4 Big Ten) visits NU (12-10, 3-6) on Saturday.

Hammons was the lone bright spot in the Boilermakers’ 97-60 home loss Wednesday to No. 3 Indiana, scoring a career-high 30 points. He is averaging 10.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and a Big Ten-leading 2.1 blocks.

‘‘We’re both freshmen,’’ Olah said. ‘‘We’re both 7 feet tall. We’re both 280 [pounds]. It’s going to be an interesting matchup.’’

NU’s roster features five true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, but no newcomer is in a tougher spot than Olah, a Romanian who was named the Wildcats’ starting center after two seasons at Traders Point Christian Academy in Zionsville, Ind. He’s backed up by 6-8 redshirt freshman Mike Turner.

‘‘He’s a kid who hasn’t been exposed to this kind of competition,’’ Carmody said of Olah. ‘‘He [went] to a little Christian school. They only had five good guys on his team, so practices weren’t anything. Here, he’s got to learn to come every day. It’s all new to him, but I’m seeing improvement.’’

Olah practices rolling, catching and dunking in the mornings, even though he prefers not to dunk, something that prompts Carmody to shake his head in disbelief.

He rarely competed against players his size in high school, and the centers he encountered in Europe didn’t possess the size, strength and athleticism common in the Big Ten.

‘‘I know what he can do,’’ forward Jared Swopshire said. ‘‘I go up against him every day in practice. When he’s aggressive, he makes our team better.’’

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