clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Caileigh Walsh is quietly playing at an elite level

After a rough start to the season, Walsh has been playing the best basketball of her career.

Mary Grace Grabill/Northwestern Athletics

Last March, Caileigh Walsh closed out her 2022-23 season with some bullseyes in the Target Center.

Just when it seemed like Northwestern’s comeback against Rutgers in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament had fallen short after the ‘Cats had resorted to intentionally fouling, Walsh buried two threes in the final minute to bring the Wildcats with two points. Her sixth and final trey of the day with nine seconds left put an exclamation point on a 24-point, eight-rebound performance.

Northwestern lost that game to end a disappointing season, but Walsh’s performance offered a glimmer of hope for the future. The sophomore had already become the team’s leading scorer, and flashed unique potential to erupt at all three levels while functioning as a rim protector on the other end. NU hadn’t had a player with that skillset since Abi Scheid.

No. 10 endured an up-and-down start to 2023-24, going ice-cold against Notre Dame, Florida State, Loyola, Maryland and DePaul. Foul trouble, turnovers and rough shooting plagued her. However, Walsh hasn’t just rebounded in her last couple of weeks. She’s been playing the most efficient basketball of her college career.

In each of her last six games, Walsh has scored no fewer than 14 points. She’s in some nice company there; only four Wildcats in the last 10 seasons have done that (Veronica Burton, Lindsey Pulliam, Nia Coffey and Maggie Lyon). Against Illinois, a team that lost at home to the same Wisconsin team Northwestern defeated in Madison, there’s a very good chance Walsh extends that streak to seven. She hasn’t fouled out, either. All in all, 17.7 points and 5.8 rebounds a game would be All-Big Ten-caliber numbers if Walsh held those six-game averages through a full season.

Her shooting splits and two-way impact take that run to another level, though. In 2022-23, her potential from long range shone in games like the Rutgers loss, but she only shot 29% from deep. Her start to this season was even worse. Through Northwestern’s loss to DePaul on Dec. 13, Walsh was shooting 28.5% from beyond the arc, hadn’t made a three-pointer in three games and had missed her last eight attempts.

She has made a three in every game since then, and has shot under 50% from deep just once. Over her last month of play, Walsh has gone 9-of-18 from three-point land. The only other big in the Big Ten with that consistency from long range on comparable volume is probably Minnesota’s Mallory Heyer, and even she hasn’t been able to string together shooting performances above 50% from the field since early November.

Speaking of field goal percentage, Walsh’s worst shooting performance over her last six games has been... a 6-of-14 clip for 19 points in Northwestern’s road win over Wisconsin. Other than that, she hasn’t shot worse than 50% since the DePaul blowout. Add in a career-best 90.7% mark from the free throw line over the entire season (Walsh has missed just three from the charity stripe all year) and five straight games with a block, and you’ve got a six-game stretch that looks like...

  • 17.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 54.9% FG%, 50% 3PT% (on three attempts per game), 90.5% FT% on... 25.5 minutes per game!

Forget the 50-40-90 club. That’s 50-50-90! Plus, those splits and shot totals add up to a true shooting percentage north of 66%. It’s been a fantastic stretch for Walsh, and it’s led to the increase of the most meaningful number on the stat sheet: Northwestern’s win total. The ‘Cats have gone 4-2 over those six games, and have a very good shot to add another win against the Fighting Illini.

Her defense and ability to stretch the floor have proven to be critical in Northwestern’s wins over Rutgers and Wisconsin. Because Walsh has remained out of foul trouble, she’s been able to stay on the court late in games to either take away attention from others or make the big plays herself. Look no further than the fourth quarter in Madison: the junior followed up a go-ahead three by denying the 6-foot-4 Serah Williams on the other end to seal the game.

With an upcoming brutal stretch featuring 12-3 Michigan State, a rematch with Penn State, a trip to Assembly Hall to battle All-American Mackenzie Holmes and a game against No. 4 Iowa all in a two-week span, it’ll be interesting to see how long Walsh’s hot run can last. If it somehow continues at this pace, Northwestern’s offensive centerpiece could certainly earn some serious All-Big Ten buzz.