Women’s basketball season kicks off in just over two weeks. To continue our player-by-player previews of the team, we’re talking about the Wildcat rocking the No. 1 jersey: senior Kaylah Rainey.
Senior; point guard; 5-foot-6; Belleville, Ill.
7.3 minutes per game; 2.0 points per game; 0.5 assists per game; 0.6 rebounds per game; 31.9 FG%; 33.3 3PT%; 72.7 FT%.
Kaylah Rainey contributed more in her junior season than any other since arriving at Northwestern. She played more minutes and scored more points than her first two years combined. Some of her best conference performances came against Ohio State, where she recorded seven points and one steal, and Purdue, where she scored four points, grabbed five boards and dished two assists. Rainey stepped up by adding five points in just six minutes in the double-overtime takeover of No. 4 Michigan as well, providing valuable energy off the bench.
Rainey’s minutes dropped consistently starting in mid-February. One could chalk this up to entering the thick of conference play, an overreliance on Veronica Burton throughout the tail-end of her senior season, the rise of first-years like Jillian Brown and Mel Dailey, or inconsistency from Rainey herself — she went 0-for-7 from the field in her final six appearances. Nonetheless, she harbors three years of Big Ten experience and a veteran presence in Joe McKeown’s secondary rotation, which he’ll continue to rely on this season.
Rainey is one of the fastest players on the court at any given moment. McKeown likes to sub her in with just a few seconds left in a quarter when the Wildcats have the ball at the far end of the court, hoping her energy will tack on a few more points before the whistle. Rainey slices through defenders like butter, and in just a few dribbles, she gently lays the ball off the glass just as the buzzer sounds. It’s an acquired skill, and one Rainey undoubtedly can use to her advantage if given more minutes her senior year.
Rainey still hasn’t seen consistent minutes as a Wildcat, but it’s safe to say that she can improve in some of the areas where Burton was a master. A natural hole has been created on both sides of the court, as has an opportunity for Rainey to build on the 12 assists and seven steals she recorded last season.
Rainey could also improve in the scoring column. She recorded a career-high of eight points against Milwaukee in December but didn’t beat that for the rest of the season. To move from a role player and quick sub for Burton to a consistent presence in the rotation, Rainey will need to create offense herself. We’ve seen her shine in end-of-quarter situations, but this year’s test will be to translate that speed to offensive sets as well. She also hit a third of her shots from three last season. There’s definitely room for Rainey to take on a bigger role beyond the arc on a team that’s losing some of its best shooters in Burton and Lauryn Satterwhite.
The loss of Burton to the WNBA leaves a huge gap at point guard. Sophomore guard Jillian Brown will likely run the one after starting nearly every game last year alongside Burton, but expect Rainey to take on a bigger role. She’s progressed across the stat chart as she’s seen more and more time on the court each season, and with the best point guard in the country off to the big leagues, this is Rainey’s year to shine and truly establish herself in the rotation. And never count her out for a last-second sprint down the full length of the court for an easy, buzzer-beating lay-in.