Though there’s been a lot more downs than expected for the Northwestern women’s basketball team as of late, there remains a fair share of ups that sustain a glimmer of hope for Wildcat fans. From Veronica Burton to offensive struggles, here are some updates on the most prominent points of success and failure for Joe McKeown’s squad this season so far:
Surprise! But seriously, how can a women’s basketball “Stock Up” column not feature the face of this Wildcat team? Welsh-Ryan Arena has the privilege of hosting one of the nation’s most criminally-underrated point guards in Veronica Burton. This season, the Backcourt Burglar is averaging a modest 17.4 points per game, and she also leads the nation with 73 steals. She’s also fourth in the country in win shares, a testament to her undeniable ability to dictate the course of a game on both sides of the ball. In fact, many are so desensitized to her greatness that they deem an eight rebound, five assist, six steal game a bad performance just because she scored only nine points. Despite some of the Wildcats’ obvious struggles as of late, Northwestern fans can be comforted by the fact that they are in the presence of greatness when Burton steps onto the court in purple.
It had not been since Veronica Burton’s freshman season that a first-year has earned a starting spot at NU. That was until this season, in which there’s been three, and each one has positively impacted the team in unique their own unique ways. Caleigh Walsh is simply a block machine, leading the conference with 33 so far. Mel Daley is averaging only nine points a game, but she has only improved throughout the season — few first-years can drop 22 points on Caitlin Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes like she did in early January. Finally, Jillian Brown’s stat column might not be the prettiest, but its also not indicative of how she plays off-ball defense like a veteran, acting as a consistent necessity in Joe McKeown’s Blizzard. Oftentimes, fans might catch themselves contemplating a future without Veronica Burton on the court, and this impressive freshman class tends to make that thought easier to swallow.
The Blizzard is still working its magic
The one saving grace for Northwestern’s persistent offensive struggles is that pretty much every team in the conference has a really hard time scoring against McKeown’s Blizzard. In their last five conference matchups, the ‘Cats have only let one team score more than 70 points. Northwestern is forcing 18.8 turnovers per game and ranks fifth in the nation with a 16% block rate. It obviously helps having the Backcourt Burglar on the court when speaking about steals, but this team has collectively cemented itself as better than 94% of teams in the country when it comes to steal rate, as well. It’s unfortunate that the ‘Cats offensive futility negates the brilliance often displayed by the Blizzard, but it is nice to be able to count on a solid defensive performance nearly every game.
Honorable mentions: Laya Hartman comeback, fans back in Welsh-Ryan
Depth with Sydney Wood out
A popular point of discussion surrounding this year’s Northwestern team is the lack of support, predominantly on offense, that Burton has received. Usually, that hole would be filled by fellow senior Sydney Wood, who has been out due to injury since the ‘Cats’ mid-November matchup against DePaul. Though she didn’t score more than six points in her four appearances prior, Wood was averaging 3.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. For context, Burton dished out five assists herself in Northwestern’s loss to Michigan State, while the rest of the team combined for only four.
Her influence on defense cannot be overlooked either. She was second on the Wildcats in steals last season with 2.6 per game and lead the team in blocks as well. Wood’s presence in the backcourt is certainly missed, and, with McKeown relying on a very young core to support Burton at the moment, her absence has not gone unnoticed.
One would have hoped that this bullet point would be erased after last year’s offensive struggles, but unfortunately, they have persisted. Northwestern is 11th in the Big Ten in points per game with a miserable 66.7. In their last four games, the Wildcats have actually averaged below that at 58.5, indicating an unfortunate lack of improvement as the season progresses. It could just be that there are a disproportionate amount of players on this team that are better defenders than they are scorers, but most players in McKeown’s rotation have shown, at the very least, sparks of brilliance. Walsh has had massive games, Laya Hartman always pushes the limits and even Lauryn Satterwhite has continued to make an impact. The list of moments and personal accolades could go on. This team is deep, but it’s possible this particular group of Wildcats just hasn’t found a way to consistently utilize all of their individual strengths as part of a collective effort.
Honorable mention: Limiting turnovers, ESPN’s Top 25 players list, Anna Morris stans