The end of Northwestern women’s basketball’s season came earlier than most had hoped, but there remain plenty of individual and team performances to look back on from the 2021-22 season. With March officially over and this year’s college basketball action behind us, it’s time we take a look at the impacts each member of Joe McKeown’s squad made during their 17-12 run. After assessing role players and reserves and kicking off our review of first-years with an analysis of Mel Daley’s play, we now dive into another Wildcat who played her first season in Evanston, Caileigh Walsh:
The following stats are courtesy of herhoopstats.com.
Walsh was one of several NU true first-years to begin the season in the starting lineup, holding down the forward position for the entirety of the ‘Cats’ non-conference slate. Offensively, she was one of Northwestern’s more reliable scoring options outside of Veronica Burton, scoring in double-digits in five of the team’s 11 out-of-conference games, including three outings of 17 points or better and one 20-point performance that led her team to a resume win over South Dakota.
But as the ‘Cats began to play high-major competition more regularly, some of the flaws in Walsh’s game became more apparent. She struggled to consistently rebound at the level expected from a player of her size, had some difficulty fitting into McKeown’s Blizzard defense, regularly found herself in foul trouble and failed to knock down threes — which comprised a large portion of her offensive output early in the season — with efficiency.
As such, she found herself out of the starting lineup in NU’s sixth Big Ten game of the season and never returned to it. She was still a valuable resource when other bigs — namely Courtney Shaw — were unavailable, but saw her role greatly diminished off of the bench and wound up averaging just 20.3 minutes per game despite starting over 55 percent of matchups.
Here are Walsh’s advanced metrics, also through Her Hoops Stats.
What sticks out here is Walsh’s reliance upon the deep ball to score. Thirty-eight percent of her shots were attempted from beyond the arc, and 37.5 percent of her points were generated off of threes. These are above-average numbers for all players nationally, but are particularly high for a big like herself.
As such, it’s understandable that she was pulled from the lineup when her efficiency on these shots dwindled. She ended the season sinking just 26.8 percent of her three point attempts, tied for the lowest such mark on the team among players who attempted more than 10 shots from downtown.
Walsh was a valuable scoring option for the team in the early going of the season. She was especially potent in the month of December, when she was either the highest or second-highest scorer for the Wildcats in all but one of their games. Her contributions from deep were particularly helpful to NU as it was adjusting to life without sharpshooter Lindsey Pulliam.
Her size also provided NU an extra line of defense down low. Put together with the stellar rim protection provided by Courtney Shaw, Walsh’s physical interior defending made it difficult for opposing offenses to get quality looks within the key. She averaged 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes played, a stat that put her in the 97th percentile of players nationally.
For all of the physicality she provided, Walsh’s deeds rarely went unpunished by the officials. Her average of 4.9 fouls per game was the highest on the team, and her regular infractions kept her off the floor more often than McKeown likely would’ve hoped. Her rebounding numbers were also nothing to write home about; despite being the tallest member of NU’s regular rotation at 6-foot-3, she averaged just 3.6 total boards per game.
Then there was her offensive consistency — or, more specifically, her lack thereof. As was previously mentioned, Walsh relied heavily on threes to produce points, but was rarely efficient in knocking said threes down. Her shot selection was often poor, as she pulled up from three while time still sat on the clock to generate further production. Though she began the season a serviceable 14-for-40 from beyond the arc, she closed out the season on a 12-for-57 clip from three, which brought her three point shooting percentage to its ultimately dismal mark of 26.8 percent.
If Walsh wants to take the next step further in her defensive game and become one of the conference’s more intimidating bigs, she’ll have to figure out how to maintain her physicality and shot-blocking ability without frequently sending opponents to the line. Her fouling issues in 2021-22 weren't completely out of the ordinary for a first-year, but as she matures and becomes a more veteran player on the team, she’ll need to learn how to mitigate whistles.
Offensively, if Walsh is going to continue to rely on the three as her main scoring mechanism, she will, to put it simply, have to get better at hitting deep shots. Some work on her post scoring could also diversify her offensive abilities, making her a harder player to guard and likely resulting in more open looks from deep in turn.
The Bottom Line
With Shaw and Sydney Wood both returning for their final seasons as Wildcats, it’s unlikely that Walsh will crack back into the starting lineup in the coming season. That said, with improved offensive efficiency and more defensive discipline, she could offer the ‘Cats an incredibly valuable spark plug off the bench and a change of pace from the more interior-centered approach of Shaw. While the consistency wasn’t always there, Walsh flashed plenty of potential in her first college season and should play a significant role in future Northwestern teams.