Women’s Basketball: Swann: Northwestern’s floundering offense must be addressed early if the squad wants championship rings


Caryl Shepard/The Daily Northwestern

Graduate forward Courtney Shaw goes up for a contested shot against UW-Parkside. Shaw finished with two points and four rebounds versus Oregon on Monday.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

Walking into an anticipated season opener, Northwestern simply couldn’t keep up with No. 20 Oregon in Eugene. 

Despite a tenacious effort, the Wildcats (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten) received a humbling 100-57 beating at the hands of the No. 20 Ducks (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) on the road, ending their 13-game season-opening win streak under coach Joe McKeown.  

Behind 15 points from sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh, nine points from sophomore guard Jillian Brown and seven points from senior guard Kaylah Rainey, NU struggled to gain any offensive momentum and trailed the entire regulation. 

The Cats faced a significant off-season loss with the departure of Veronica Burton, who was drafted to the WNBA’s Dallas Wings. Yet, the team returned ten of its top 12 scorers from the 2021-22 season, including graduate forward Courtney Shaw and graduate guard Sydney Wood.  

However, the two leaders were absent on the court. They combined for just seven points total — a disappointing statistic for the former All-Big Ten honorable mention and All-Big Ten honoree. 

Although Wood missed most of last year with a season-ending injury, she remains a central component to NU’s offensive unit with her leadership on and off the court, according to Shaw. And yet, her whopping five points versus the Ducks Monday begs the question of how much of an offensive threat Wood will pose for the team in a season where the attacking unit will be the deciding factor in most contests. 

The Cats got off to a sluggish start, blindsided by Oregon’s fast pace transition game and high-pressuring defense. NU’s younger team appeared outskilled on all ends of the court, tending to play a one-versus-one game rather than team ball. In the first half alone, the Cats faced a double digit deficit mainly off of turnovers and points from the switched possession. It was hard to watch a team, previously so effective on the attack, struggle to connect and put points on the board. 

As the game progressed into the second half, the group was still missing a spark to ignite the offense into the next gear. The Ducks’ power forwards and guards moved effortlessly inside the paint and controlled the pace of play in a way that forced the Cats to leave players free for open shots at the rim.

Walsh played a key role for NU’s offense, stepping up big time versus Oregon and proving she could hold her own. One of the top recruits in her class, Walsh finished her freshman season in 2021-22 with 40 blocks and averaged 7.4 points per game. Coming out of Monday’s contest, she led the team and recorded six rebounds, helping fill the shoes of a missing offensive threat after Burton’s exit. 

After its disappointing opening faceoff, the Cats have some serious concerns to address as they prepare to battle Big Ten competition in the future. A majority of their games last year came down to a shooting contest, meaning there must be a player to step up to kickstart the offense. 

McKeown said NU aims to return to the Big Ten Championship this season and replicate its success from the 2019-20 season. But if the Cats can’t remedy these offensive errors early on, the chances of a strong postseason run are very unlikely.

NU’s central players, like Shaw and Wood, must step up inside the paint and lead the younger teammates on the floor. Missing those opportunities Monday against the Ducks, the Cats need to be more proactive on the post as they dive deeper into the season and play heavy pressure defense units.

As it returns to Welsh Ryan Arena on Sunday to host the University of Pennsylvania, NU has more than enough time to make these adjustments and come back strong for these upcoming weeks at home.

Not facing a conference opponent until early December, the Cats must utilize this home tour to ready themselves offensively for the high stakes 2022-23 season ahead. 

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Twitter: @sswann301

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