Penn’s Kayla Padilla and Harvard’s Lola Mullaney lead the next wave of Ivy League talent
(They'll also face off this Friday!)
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For fans of women’s basketball who don’t specifically follow the Ivy League, it might seem like the league is “The Bella Alarie Show” this season. The Princeton senior forward, who is a projected first-round pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, has certainly delivered, averaging 17.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. However, two freshmen in Philadelphia and Cambridge are threatening to steal the spotlight.
Penn’s Kayla Padilla and Harvard’s Lola Mullaney are the only two Ivy League freshmen to average at least 15 points per game. Padilla leads the league and ranks 24th nationally with 19.7 points per game, while Mullaney’s 15.4 points per game rank sixth in the league. They are both responsible for over 25% of their teams’ scoring and average at least 50% more points per game than the next-highest scorer.
As you might expect, Padilla and Mullaney are used to being relied upon as scorers. Each player scored over 1,500 points in high school and had multiple Division I scholarship offers. Padilla, a 5-foot-9 guard, played at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California, where she was coached by 2018 WNBA champion Noelle Quinn. Although Padilla was not ranked in Prospect Nation or ESPN’s recruiting rankings, she earned all-state honors in her final two seasons and graduated as her school’s third-leading scorer all-time. (Quinn, a former Bishop Montgomery player herself, is still the program’s scoring leader.)
On the opposite coast, the 5-foot-11 Mullaney distinguished herself at Manasquan High School, the New Jersey school that also counts the Mabrey sisters and broadcaster Doris Burke as alumnae. Mullaney averaged 20.5 points per game in three seasons playing alongside current Maryland freshman Faith Masonius and earned second-team all-state honors as a senior. She was ranked as the 34th-best guard (and 129th overall) in the class of 2019 by Prospect Nation and the 54th-best guard by ESPN.
Both players have been starters and impact players from day one for teams that are a combined 19-9 this season. Padilla and Mullaney each scored 39 points in their first two games and have only been held to fewer than 10 points a combined three times. They split the first four Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards; Mullaney has two so far and Padilla has five. The Penn star has also won two Ivy League Player of the Week awards and one U.S. Basketball Writers Association Freshman of the Week award.
Behind Padilla, Penn boasts a 9-4 record, with three of those losses coming to teams ranked in the top 80 in Her Hoop Stats (HHS) rating. In a loss to HHS No. 13 Princeton on January 11, Padilla did her best Alarie impression by scoring 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including four made 3-pointers on seven attempts. (Unfortunately for the Quakers, the real Alarie had 25 points and 11 rebounds in that matchup.)
Earlier this season, Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin gushed about Padilla on the Her Hoop Stats podcast. “She’s been as good as I would only hope,” he told host John Liddle. “… She’s got tremendous skill; she’s got great ambition to be very, very good at this; she commits herself; she’s selfless. She has all the intangibles to be a great player here at Penn … Her ability to score the ball in so many ways has really separated her from everyone else, and I’m just excited every day to have her out here.”
Padilla’s multifaceted scoring ability is evident in her statistics: she attempts nearly as many 3-pointers as 2-pointers, shoots 43.2% from behind the arc, and still gets to the free-throw line a few times per game. She also adds 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game, and she rarely makes mistakes, as shown by her extremely low turnover rate (10.5%) and foul rate (2.4%). Even as a freshman, game planning for her is likely already keeping opposing coaches awake at night.
On Friday, Penn will go on the road to face Harvard (10-5), and head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith will counter with her own impact freshman in Mullaney. Mullaney leads a class that Delaney-Smith knew was special well before the season started. “‘Our freshmen class has blown us away,” Delaney-Smith told High Post Hoops’ Matt Ward in September. She added that, in her 37-plus seasons with the Crimson, “I genuinely haven’t experienced anything like this.’” On November 5, the day of the team’s season opener, Harvard’s student newspaper quoted Delaney-Smith saying, “[Mullaney] may be the best shooter to ever play here if she continues the way she's going right now.”
Mullaney’s current shooting percentages of 36.2% on 2-pointers and 34.7% on 3-pointers don’t jump off the page, but the potential is there to deliver on Delaney-Smith’s words. She is attempting a whopping 9.1 3-pointers per game, and she has made five or more on four separate occasions, including in her Crimson debut. Like Padilla, Mullaney is also impacting the game in other ways, most notably by averaging 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and avoiding turnovers. Mullaney was the only Ivy League player included in ESPN’s Dan Olson’s list of the most impactful freshmen in the country, which was published on December 19.
The very next day, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald quoted McLaughlin discussing Padilla. “I think eventually, she’s going to lead this group,” McLaughlin said. “She may lead it statistically now, but I think she’ll be the face of this as we go forward.” McLaughlin was talking only about his team, but with Alarie graduating and Padilla and Mullaney lighting up scoreboards all over the country, it’s not a stretch to say that these freshman phenoms could be the next faces of Ivy League basketball.
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