We are now less than two weeks away from the start of Northwestern women’s basketball! Next up in our player preview series is Laya Hartman, who is one of four seniors/grad students on the team.
Who she is
Senior; guard; 5-foot-11; Okemos, Mich.
26 minutes per game; 7.6 points per game; 1.4 assists per game; 2.6 rebounds per game; 37.9 FG%; 38.7 3P%; 63.6 FT%.
Two seasons ago, Laya Hartman appeared in only nine games due to injury and averaged six minutes per contest. So, how did she manage to emerge as one of Joe McKeown’s most vital players in a guard rotation that featured Veronica Burton, Lauryn Satterwhite, Jillian Brown and others? It was largely because of her versatility.
Sydney Wood’s early-season injury left the ‘Cats thin at the wings. Not only did Hartman fill in that role, but she also spent some time as a stretch four when McKeown opted to go small. Once conference play began in January, her minutes stayed consistent. Hartman’s best stretch occurred from mid-January to mid-February, in which she scored 10 points or more in six of eight games. She provided a steady presence as the team’s best three-point shooter who created room for Burton to operate by spacing the floor.
While Northwestern wasn’t a great three-point shooting team last season, it at least improved on its conference-worst 26.8% mark in 2020-21. Hartman’s improvement played a huge factor in that area. As previously mentioned, it would have been much easier for defenses to throw multiple help defenders at Burton to keep her from getting a head of steam into the paint had Hartman not posed a significant threat from long range.
It’s not often you see a player shoot better from beyond the arc than from inside it, but that’s exactly what the senior did. She was a knockdown marksman from the corner, which meshed perfectly with Burton’s remarkable ability to drive and kick out.
Hartman’s reliance on the three-ball (she scored 51.8% of her points from outside, per Her Hoop Stats) isn’t a weakness by itself, but her inability to consistently get to the hoop and finish is. Even though she played the fifth-most minutes on the team, Hartman only shot 11 free throws. According to CBB Analytics, she took 71 shots inside the paint last year (and only shot 48% inside), so it isn’t completely a product of her role in McKeown’s offense as a catch-and-shoot threat. Hartman just needs to improve as an attacker, which should come with more touches this season.
Hartman also wasn’t a great defender last year, which is a bit surprising given how versatile she is. Northwestern gave up 8.7 fewer points per 100 possessions when Hartman was off the floor than when she was on it. The only Wildcat who had a worse mark was Courtney Shaw, and her on-off numbers don’t reflect her play that well since she played 76.4% of NU’s minutes.
Looking back at a few late-season games in particular, such as Northwestern’s losses to Indiana and Nebraska, there were a few instances where Hartman simply got beaten backdoor or down the baseline because she wanted to apply more perimeter pressure. Plays like these exhibit Hartman’s aggressive nature, which led to an open trey here:
As the Hoosier ball-handler dribbles to her right, Hartman (No. 33) appears to motion to Burton on the weak side to apply pressure up top. Hartman aims to step up and replace her, which leaves an open path from corner-to-corner down the baseline in the process. While it didn’t work out here, Hartman is quick and alert enough on rotations to allow NU’s guards to swarm the ball while ensuring the nearest open shooter is multiple passes away. In this case, that’s a gamble for Hartman since she’s protecting a free lane to the basket. But, it could pay dividends for the ‘Cats if she plays farther up the wing, which would put her in a position to attack ball-handlers with less risk. In an aggressive defense like the Blizzard, this weakness could turn into a strength if Hartman and McKeown play their cards right.
Once again, Hartman will likely be Northwestern’s premier scoring threat from downtown. The ‘Cats are teeming with talented wing players, but the senior is the only one who has proven she can consistently knock down deep shots. So, Hartman will need to bear a decent portion of the scoring load for NU to make noise in the Big Ten.
Just as she took a major jump from her sophomore to junior year, the extent to which Hartman improves as a paint scorer and as a defender will play a key role in determining how successful the ‘Cats are in conference play. If Hartman turns heads in any way similar to last year, then Evanston is in for a fun season.