Christmas came early for women’s basketball, as Kayla Padilla gifted the Quakers one of her best offensive performances of the season, scoring 28 and the game-winner in a come-from-behind victory over Temple.
Penn trailed by as much as 15 during a game in which the Quakers committed 18 turnovers and shot just 37% from the field, but Padilla’s late-game heroics sealed the Red and Blue’s fifth-straight victory as they head into the nearly three-week long finals break.
“I thought Kayla was special, not even good,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought that was as well as she has played here at Penn. She single-handedly carried us to the finish line. She was as good as you’re going to see.”
Though Penn trailed by 15 in the third quarter, no deficit loomed larger than the four-point one with 26.8 seconds to go. But on a set out-of-bounds play, freshman guard Simone Sawyer managed to find enough space off a Padilla pass on the left wing to nail a three-pointer, putting Penn down one.
“Her confidence has gone through the roof,” Padilla said. “Once she saw the ball consistently going in, I think she knew she could really make an impact on this level.”
A subsequent five-second violation by Temple set the Quakers up with a chance to take the lead. So with less than 20 seconds left and the game on the line, who did Penn turn to? Padilla, of course, who drove down the alley and laid it in to give Penn the one-point advantage.
Another costly travel gave Penn back the ball, and once again, Penn got the ball in Padilla’s hands, who dribbled it out for the win.
“It was nothing but pure joy for those last few seconds,” Padilla said.
For the senior guard, Saturday afternoon was extra special, as she passed 1,000 career points, becoming the quickest Quaker to reach the mark under coach Mike McLaughlin and third-fastest in team history.
According to McLaughlin, when the milestone was announced to the stadium, Padilla seemed unfazed and said, “Now lets go win a basketball game.”
Although they both knew she was close, McLaughlin and Padilla didn’t know that she'd done it until the announcement was made.
“I’m not super big on individual accolades,” Padilla said. “While yes, I’m very proud to have reached 1,000 points, I don’t think it would have meant as much if we didn’t translate and win in this game.”
Starting out, sloppy play was the name of the game on both sides of the ball with a combined 2-12 from the three-point arc and seven total turnovers across the first quarter. Padilla and junior forward Jordan Obi combined for all 12 of the Quakers’ points with six apiece, putting Padilla just nine points away from 1,000.
Tied at 19 midway through the second period, Temple (4-6) finally took advantage of the Quakers’ mistakes, going on a 10-2 run in which Penn (6-5) committed three turnovers. Down 29-21, Obi – who finished the half with a team-high 12 points – willed Penn back to life with six straight points, putting the team within two.
“If you look at that part of the game, we were really struggling and it was ready to get pulled away a little bit from us, and we went to her three straight times,” McLaughlin said.
The Quakers also struggled from three-point range once again. Padilla was able to hit an early three, but that was the only one Penn would hit the entire quarter, finishing the half 2-13.
Obi, despite her best attempts, couldn’t keep Penn in the game forever. To open the second half, Temple went on a 15-2 run, scoring 10 of those points off Quaker turnovers.
At that point, though, Padilla, who had been relatively quiet in the quarter, decided to remind the Palestra of her presence.
She hit two free throws and sank a three to end Penn’s field-goal drought, but she wasn’t done yet. Padilla – who scored 11 in the third period – broke the 1,000-point threshold in style with another three, scoring eight straight points to put the Quakers within seven. Penn would finish on a 13-3 run and go into the fourth quarter down just three.
As the fourth began, it was all Padilla once again. With 6:21 left, she put the Quakers ahead 54-53 off her sixth three-pointer of the game, marking Penn's first lead since the second quarter.
Though the Owls would regain the lead and control for much of the closing stretch, Padilla’s heroics would put Penn atop for its second Big 5 win of the season and fifth victory in a row after beginning the season 1-5.
The Quakers have one more game this year – Dec. 30 against Gwynedd Mercy (7-2) – before commencing Ivy play at the start of January.