With the women’s basketball exhibition game on Thursday, we’re continuing our player preview series. Next up is Caroline Lau, a sophomore guard who flashed throughout last season.
Who is she?
Sophomore; guard; 5-foot-9; from Westport, Connecticut
30 games played, three starts, 20.8 minutes per game, 5.7 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game, 0.6 steals per game, 35.1% FG%, 31.3% 3PT%, 65% FT%
As the No. 91 recruit in ESPN’s Class of 2022 prospect rankings, Lau entered Evanston with high expectations. Northwestern looked for her to flash signs of becoming the program’s point guard of the future, given it had just lost Veronica Burton and Kaylah Rainey was entering her final season.
It took time, but that’s what Lau did. She immediately displayed great passing talent in non-conference play, averaging three assists in her first six games despite playing just 16.7 minutes per contest off the bench. However, early turnover and shooting struggles made Lau’s adjustment to the collegiate level difficult. NU’s late-December blowout loss to Ohio State, which hounded her with its press and forced the first-year into four turnovers, encapsulated her rough transition. Eventually, though, Lau worked through those tough games to put up some eye-popping performances toward the end of the season.
She dropped 13 points in 22 minutes at then-No. 2 OSU and scored 12 in a loss to Penn State, but her best performance came on Jan. 25 against Chicago State in an 87-64 win — a game that she started. In just 27 minutes, Lau blossomed with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, a steal and two blocks on 6-of-10 shooting. She also went 3-of-6 from three-point land. It was the first game of Lau’s Northwestern career where she illustrated the sky-high heights she could reach as an all-around offensive player.
While Lau continued to struggle with ball security and decision-making as the season drew to a close, she built on the Chicago State game by doing a little bit of everything down the stretch. She recorded two steals in four of her last 10 contests, and she went on a six-game stretch where she averaged north of four rebounds a game. Northwestern struggled mightily on offense all year, and Lau wasn’t immune from that, but she had a number of moments that hinted she’s capable of leading the way toward righting the ship.
Lau is a point guard who thrives most when working in open space. When she gets out in transition, she tends to shine as a ball-handler and as a facilitator by beating defenders and setting up Northwestern’s paint scorers for easy looks. Lau’s assist percentage last year ranked in the NCAA’s 91st percentile, and a bunch of her feeds came when she had ample room to work with. If NU’s shooting was better, she likely could have had even more.
The sophomore also has the potential to light it up from long range. Her 31.1% mark from beyond the arc wasn’t great, but it was also the second-best mark on the team in 2022-23 behind Rainey, who won’t be back this year. With the first year under her belt, that mark could definitely improve. At her best, Lau is the most offensively talented guard on the entire team.
Frankly, Lau’s ability to gradually get better was her most impressive quality in her first season. The overall statistical improvement is outlined above, but Lau’s growth between the two games she played against Ohio State really highlights why Northwestern fans should expect a significant jump from her. In the home matchup, she didn’t score in 19 minutes and turned the ball over four times, as mentioned above. However, when the ‘Cats went to Columbus, Lau’s 13 points and five rebounds came on 5-of-9 shooting without a single turnover. Entering Year Two, Lau should make some serious strides in multiple facets of her game.
Lau really struggled to consistently make good decisions throughout 2022-23. In nine of her 30 games, she turned the ball over at least four times. Considering Lau came off the bench in almost all of those games, that’s even more discouraging. While her speed made her electrifying in the open floor, it was also a source of many of those giveaways. Playing out-of-control led to her dribbling into traps or simply losing the ball.
Furthermore, that pace of play probably hindered Lau’s shooting mark at the rim, which stood at just 36.5% last year. Although she was consistently able to beat defenders to find paths inside, No. 2 didn’t often draw fouls or finish well in traffic. To be fair to her, that might have been a result of defenses collapsing inside without strong shooters around her stretching the floor, but Lau has to improve her finesse inside to become NU’s primary scoring weapon.
Lau will almost certainly be Northwestern’s starting point guard for the next three years, and she’ll get her first chance to lead the way this season. Considering she’s the team’s first sophomore captain since Burton in 2019-20, it’s clear that Lau is already a leader in the locker room, and that McKeown expects big things from her.
Simply put, the offense will go as far as the PG goes. Lau will need to complement Caileigh Walsh well on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats to improve from their 2-18 Big Ten record last season. The Big Ten is loaded with great backcourt players, so if Lau can climb up to the middle of the pack of floor generals in the conference, NU should be looking at a better record come March.