Northwestern Women’s Basketball Season Recap
By Patrick Winograd
The story of the 2022 Northwestern women’s basketball season was destined to revolve around one key question: how could the ‘Cats replace Veronica Burton?
Burton made the Big Ten All-Defensive team in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, along with an All-Big Ten second-team selection as a sophomore and two All-Big Ten first-team selections in her final two seasons.
In her final season at Northwestern (2021-2022), Burton averaged 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.0 steals per game en route to winning National Defensive Player of the Year, as well as being named a third-team All American by AP.
In all four seasons with Burton on the roster, Northwestern had a winning record, and although the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament caused a 26-4 Northwestern season to end prematurely, the ‘Cats went dancing in 2021, and claimed the program’s first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 1993 with a victory over UCF.
However, after all those accomplishments with Burton at the helm, Northwestern faced the challenge of replacing a team leader and veteran, as well as the team’s best player on both sides of the court.
An even bigger challenge was Northwestern’s non-conference schedule. Two of the first three games for the ‘Cats were against ranked opponents: No.20 Oregon and No. 9 Notre Dame. The ‘Cats lost both of those games in blowout fashion, and started the season 1-2 (with a win over Penn), but then rebounded and rattled off three straight victories against Southern Illinois, Niagara and Valparaiso.
Things went south from there, though. Northwestern lost their next three games against Duke, No. 17 Michigan and Depaul. The ‘Cats beat UIC and Air Force by a combined ten points, but the Air Force game was the last time Northwestern’s record would be above .500 for the season.
The Wildcats lost eight straight conference games against No. 3 Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, No. 6 Indiana, No. 12 Iowa, Purdue, No. 2 Ohio State,and No. 21 Illinois. Most of the games were not very close either. The losses to Ohio State were by 23 and 30 points, while the loss to Indiana was by 22 and the Iowa game was a 29-point defeat.
Northwestern kept it closer in the two losses to Illinois, losing the first game by six points on the road, and the second one by just three points. Northwestern also lost by seven to Michigan State, and by 11 to Purdue.
Northwestern had not won a game since December 17, and it took a non-conference game against Chicago State for the ‘Cats to get back in the win column. They parlayed that Chicago State victory into a 70-67 road win over Wisconsin, which was Northwestern’s first conference win of the season, after starting off 0-9.
Unfortunately, the winning ways did not continue. Northwestern lost close (74-64) to Penn State and to Nebraska (78-66), but then the margins of defeat got ugly again.
No. 8 Maryland beat Northwestern 79-54 in Evanston, and Northwestern’s two-game road trip was not any better. The Wildcats lost 76-61 on the road against Purdue, and then 62-48 to Rutgers, before returning home for games against Minnesota and Wisconsin, two teams in the bottom-five of the Big Ten standings.
Northwestern claimed their second conference victory of the season with a 76-62 over Minnesota, but Wisconsin avenged their early-season loss at home to Northwestern by beating the ‘Cats 64-57 in Evanston. Northwestern ended the regular season with an 80-64 loss on the road to Nebraska, and unsurprisingly, got bounced out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament via a 63-59 loss to Rutgers.
After it was all said and done, a 6-5 start to the season was the highpoint of the season, and 19 games later, the Wildcats ended up 9-21, with a 2-16 record in conference play.
While keeping two games against Illinois close in the early portions of conference play was a good sign, the ‘Cats still struggled to only those two victories in conference over Wisconsin and Minnesota and never really turned around the season like Northwestern fans hoped for.
‘Cats fans will hope that returning players like seniors Jasmine McWilliams and Caileigh Walsh, and junior Paige Mott, who all started 20 or more games, along with sophomore Caroline Lau, who was sixth on the team in minutes per game, can be a strong foundation for an improved 2023-2024 roster.