Northwestern Women’s Basketball MVP: Caileigh Walsh

By Bradley Locker

Northwestern Women’s Basketball 2022-23 MVP: Caileigh Walsh

After the departure of star and program anchor Veronica Burton, Northwestern women’s basketball knew it was in for a transition year in 2022-23 without its sage, veteran point guard. That premonition turned into the reality of a very challenging season, as the Wildcats went just 9-21 with a 2-16 conference record — the worst in the Big Ten.
Despite a season of lows for NU, the team witnessed several breakouts, including from forward Paige Mott, point guard Kaylah Rainey and point guard Caroline Lau. However, no one burst onto the scene more than forward Caileigh Walsh.

In her sophomore season, Walsh was head coach Joe McKeown’s leading scorer, averaging 12.1 points per game. That scoring boost can be attributed to Walsh bettering her field goal percentage by 6% relative to her first season in Evanston. The 6-foot-3 forward eclipsed the 20-point mark in four games, culminating in a 24-point showing in the team’s final game of the year against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament.

Beyond just putting the ball in the basket, Walsh improved her rebounding acumen, shifting from an average of 3.6 boards/game as a first-year to 4.7 in her second season. Likewise, the New Jersey native nearly doubled her average number of assists, from 0.6 in Year One to 1.1 in Year Two.

To put it frankly, Northwestern struggled on both ends of the floor last year, especially with converting scoring chances when given the opportunity to put the ball in the basket. In spite of such woes, Walsh elevated her own game, proving to be the ‘Cats’ best all-around player.

However, there are certainly areas of growth for Walsh as she begins her third season — beginning Nov. 9 against UIC.

Walsh was not entirely a reliable scoring option despite being the team’s points leader. For instance, after accumulating 35 points in two games against Chicago State and Wisconsin in late January, the forward then scored under 10 points in four straight games. One area that could help maintain better balance is three-point shooting: Walsh was still under 30% in that department last year, and should look to hone in on locating from downtown given her inside-out versatility.

Additionally, Walsh must enhance her defensive play, particularly by limiting fouls. The incoming junior paced Northwestern with 94 fouls a year ago — which was 18 more than the second-place Rainey tallied. If Walsh continues to get whistles called, she’ll be forced to spend time on the bench because of foul trouble, which helps neither her own development nor the success of the Wildcats.

Moreover, Walsh should look to better utilize her 6-foot-3 frame and advantageous wingspan, including being more intentional with stonewalling defenders with her size in the post and better collecting rebounds with her long arms.

While Walsh proved to be Northwestern’s most impact player in a dismal 2022-23 campaign, there’s still the ability for the junior to develop further into one of the conference’s better forwards on both sides of the floor. That ceiling should excite both Wildcat fans and McKeown — ultimately, getting closer to reaching it will be key if NU wants to tangibly increase its win total from a season ago.