A senior and a freshman. A passer and a shooter. A starter and a finisher.
In many ways, Penn women’s basketball’s Kayla Padilla and Simone Sawyer are an unlikely pairing. They fill different roles, employ different styles, and stand at vastly different points in their basketball careers. But if the team wants to make the most of its season, the on-court synergy between Padilla and Sawyer is one of the things it will need to rely on the most.
When the season began, most of the expectations surrounding the team’s ceiling were measured by Padilla, its senior leader. Named to the All-Ivy first team in every season of her collegiate career, Padilla is the type of player that can completely control a team from her guard position. She is not only the team’s best scorer, but its best passer, making her the fulcrum through which the offense is set in motion.
Padilla is averaging 13.8 PPG through nine games this season, while also leading the team in assists. Anyone who has watched one of Penn’s games this season can see that Padilla is fulfilling her role as the offensive engine, weaving through defenses and setting up her teammates for success. But Padilla needs teammates who can convert those opportunities, and so far in her young career, Sawyer has been just that.
A freshman out of Lincolnshire, Ill., Sawyer — who earned an Ivy League Rookie of the Week nod last week — has been nothing short of phenomenal during the first stretch of her collegiate career. After coming off the bench to start the season, she has quickly carved out a starting role for herself thanks to one trait: her ridiculous shooting ability. Sawyer is currently hitting 41.5% of her three-point shots, with many of those looks coming off passes from Padilla. Sawyer also nailed 10 threes across back-to-back games against San Francisco and USC a few weeks ago.
While Sawyer’s performances have been less prolific during the Quakers’ recent homestand, I believe one thing remains certain: the team’s offense is at its most dangerous when she and Padilla are firing on all cylinders, together. In the game against USC, Penn took the Trojans, a team that currently sits at 9-0, all the way down to the wire. In the two games that followed against La Salle and Stony Brook, the Quakers put up their two highest scoring totals of the season (72 and 73, respectively), with Sawyer averaging 18 points across the two contests. The more she is involved in the offense, the better off the team will be.
The modern game of basketball is defined by perimeter shooting. Penn’s offense is no different, with 39.7% of their field-goal attempts coming from long range. In that vein, I believe the duo of Padilla and Sawyer should be the lifeblood of the team’s attack moving forward.
This is not to say the rest of the Quakers should be any less involved in the offense. Jordan Obi, Floor Toonders, Mandy McGurk, Sydnei Caldwell, and the rest of the team are fantastic players in their own right, with key strengths that will make them invaluable in Penn’s quest for any Ivy League title.
But every basketball team, no matter the level or caliber, has its go-to looks. The shots they prioritize, the players they rely on when everything else breaks down. In my experience watching Penn this season, its most successful plays have gone something like this: Padilla drives, draws the defense, and kicks out to Sawyer, who connects on an open three. That should be the type of shot the Quakers aim for, and that is the type of shot that will help them reach their full potential.
WALKER CARNATHAN is a Sports Associate for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College freshman studying English from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at email@example.com.