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Northwestern women’s basketball 2022-23 player reviews: Kaylah Rainey

After three seasons as a backup, Rainey took huge strides.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 11 Women’s Northwestern at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the penultimate part of our Northwestern women’s basketball player review series, we take a look at the senior season of point guard Kaylah Rainey. Trying to fill Veronica Burton’s shoes is no easy task, and that’s exactly what she had to do in 2022-23. While the team’s 8-21 record didn’t reflect it, Rainey made a big leap in her final year as a Wildcat.


Here’s a screenshot of Rainey’s stat line, courtesy of Sports Reference.

As a result of Burton’s departure, the starting point guard spot was up for grabs heading into the 2022-23 campaign, and Rainey took it. By virtue of that, she more than tripled her career high in minutes per game, playing over 25 minutes per contest compared to just 7.2 in 2021-22. That helped Rainey set career bests in almost every per-game statistic.

Although the point guard’s shooting splits weren’t incredible, her effective field goal percentage (eFG%) was the highest mark of her career at 40.8% (CBB Analytics, as shown below, charted it at 40.1%). Shooting 32.8% from three-point land — the best mark on the entire team — played a big factor in steadying Rainey’s percentages.

Shot Distribution

Below is Rainey’s heat map, which can be found on CBB Analytics’ website.

Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, this is one of the areas where life without Burton hit them like a freight train. Rainey is clearly a very solid catch-and-shoot threat from deep. However, because she had to play on the ball so often, she rarely got those opportunities. When she wasn’t functioning as a facilitator, Rainey drove and tried to finish inside consistently; that’s a tall task given she’s just 5-foot-6. The senior only made a third of her attempts at the rim, which was worse than 93% of all players in Division I.

As a result, Big Ten defenses didn’t have to collapse inside the way they’ve had to the past four seasons to stop an acrobatic finisher like Burton. That made it more difficult for Rainey to find her teammates for open jumpers after she penetrated the paint.

The large positive is that Rainey was a relatively consistent three-point shooter on a team that immensely struggled to drain jump shots all season. While No. 0 was hot from the right corner, she was also able to bury shots from other spots on the floor off the dribble. That kept Northwestern in a ton of close games that probably should have been blowouts, particularly its home loss to Purdue on Jan. 14. In that game, Rainey scored a career-high 14 points, and hit all three of her shots from beyond the arc when the rest of the team went 3-of-16.

The Good

Rainey clearly understood her role in the offense, which was to be a pass-first point guard who gave Caileigh Walsh, Sydney Wood and Northwestern’s other key scorers as many opportunities as possible. Rainey assisted about 25% of NU’s field goals when she was on the floor, which ranked in the nation’s 90th percentile. Given how much the ‘Cats struggled to create for themselves offensively, this demonstrates how heavily the offense’s efficiency relied on Rainey’s playmaking.

Rainey was also able to earn free throw attempts at a decent rate (32.4%) and shot excellently from the line. She shot 85.7% from the line, bettering her 2021-22 mark by 13%. While she only shot 42 free throws on the year, which wasn’t enough to statistically qualify for most leaderboards, that improvement is incredibly impressive.

Those marks are good, but Rainey wreaked the most havoc on the defensive side. She averaged 1.7 steals per game, which ranked second on the ‘Cats behind Wood. The PG consistently made up for her size disadvantage with her fierce on-ball pressure, hounding ball-handlers and forcing them to lose their rhythm. Her steal percentage of 3.8% was better than all but 8% of Division I players. Rainey has always been a solid on-ball defender, but that was where she stood out the most in her senior year.

The Bad

As was the case for most Wildcats, turnovers plagued Rainey. No player had a higher turnovers per 100 possessions mark than she did, though that is a product of Rainey possessing the ball more than anyone else. Still, she telegraphed her passes pretty frequently — especially early in the season when Northwestern endured a brutal non-conference slate — which allowed NU’s opponents to pick up the pace and put points up in bunches.

Although Rainey thrived pressuring opposing guards, she was also prone to getting beat off the dribble. Not only did that allow playmakers to penetrate easily and open the floor, but when the defense recovered and Rainey had to switch onto taller players, offenses could isolate her and create a mismatch.

As previously noted, Rainey’s height also played a factor in her finishing struggles. To the Belleville, Illinois native’s credit, though, she improved in many of these areas as the season went on, which speaks to the difficulty in transitioning from coming off the bench for three seasons to starting at point guard.

The Bottom Line

While her transition into the starting point guard role wasn’t seamless, Rainey was a steady contributor on both sides of the ball for Northwestern. Considering how crowded Northwestern’s backcourt has been for the last half-decade, Rainey’s season was a nice culmination of her work throughout the last three years to secure this starting opportunity. She will likely pass the torch to rising sophomore Caroline Lau.