Second-year guard Caroline Lau takes the ball out of bounds. Lau is a major facilitator for the 'Cats, leading the team in assists. Photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern.

Northwestern Women’s Basketball (7-14, 2-8 B1G) is in a rebuilding era.

For the second season in a row, the ’Cats sit near the bottom of the B1G rankings. With 21 losses and only nine wins, the 2022-23 season was the ’Cats’ worst record in the last fifteen years, and this year is not shaping up to be much better. While it's difficult to point to a single cause of the team’s struggles, the departures of Lindsey Pulliam in 2021 and current WNBA hooper Veronica Burton in 2022 left a gaping hole in the the team's defensive abilities.

Advancing through adversity

Adversity is not new to Coach Joe McKeown. When he was hired in 2008, he was presented with a team that had won 24 of 95 games over the previous four seasons. Over the last 15 seasons, McKeown turned the team around coaching them to two March Madness bids and 10 winning seasons.

While McKeown has proved himself capable of reinvigorating a struggling squad, he has recently been dealing with health issues. He missed five games in January due to illness. The ’Cats lost four of those five games.

McKeown returned to coach the last two games against Penn State (16-5, 7-3 B1G) and Indiana (18-2, 9-1 B1G). Since the team is not releasing much information, it remains unclear whether his health will be an obstacle to the team in the future. Despite the cloud of McKeown’s illness looming over the squad, first-year guard Casey Harter and second-year guard Caroline Lau have the potential to pave the way for a new age of Northwestern Women’s Basketball.

Growing pains

Over the course of the season, Casey Harter’s playing time has increased dramatically. Halfway through the season, Harter is averaging 26.9 minutes per game, the second most on the team. This is an accomplishment for Harter as first-year players often struggle to transition quickly from high school to NCAA play. Harter's performance is consistently on the rise, achieving career-best points and assists multiple times this season. Given this trend, she is a promising player to watch in the coming four years.

Caroline Lau sits tied for second in the B1G for assists averaging 5.8 per game, just behind Iowa's Caitlin Clark. Lau has started every game this season and boasts the most minutes per game on Northwestern’s roster. She is slowly settling into her role as a confident point guard.

Third-year guard Melannie Daley is playing better than she ever has. She leads the team in points and steals averaging 13.1 points per game and 30 total steals. A leader on the floor for Northwestern, Daley sets the pace for the team. When asked about her improved performance on the court in a recent press conference, Daley said, “I’m just out there playing basketball. That’s really it.”

Despite the individual accolades, the ’Cats have struggled to find their groove this season. Northwestern has lost seven games so far by a margin of 25 points or more. Statistically, the ’Cats are the worst defensive team in the B1G, allowing their opponents to score an average of 83 points per game. On top of that, they rank third to last in points scored with an average of 67.4 points per game. Clearly, there is plenty of room for this squad to improve.

Looking ahead

The ’Cats have eight games left in the regular season. Only one game is against a currently ranked team: Indiana (18-2, 9-1 B1G).

It is unlikely the ’Cats will be able to claw their way into March Madness this year, but building a great team doesn’t happen overnight. Patience is key. McKeown has honed diamonds in the rough before. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he did it again.

Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern.