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Senior guard Kayla Padilla puts up a shot against Yale during the away game at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in New Haven, Conn. on Feb. 17. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — As senior guard Kayla Padilla warmed up for Penn women’s basketball’s Friday night clash with Yale, the expectations were clear. The expectation to win the team's third straight game. The expectation to follow up her Ivy League Player of the Week award with another remarkable game. A team to lead, a standard to uphold.

Padilla not only met those expectations, but surpassed them, racking up 25 points and four assists to lead Penn to a 72-58 victory that secured the team's place in the Ivy League tournament. As a team, the Quakers nailed 50% of their three-pointers, and also received key contributions from junior forward Jordan Obi — who notched her fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 14 rebounds — and freshman guard Simone Sawyer, who continued to ride the rhythm of her 15-point performance against Harvard by chipping in 12.

“One of our big goals is to get to the Ivy League tournament,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “And [Padilla] willed us right from the beginning.”

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Coach Kelly Killion leads Penn women's basketball in its team huddle before it faced Yale on Feb. 17.

And following Friday's win, Penn will have the chance to do just that. The game moved Penn three games ahead of fifth-place Yale in the conference standings, and gave the Quakers the tiebreaker. Penn has clinched its first birth in the Ivy League Tournament since 2020, and looks to play its first Ivy Madness game in four years. 

Padilla scored 18 points in the first half as Penn raced out to a 29-22 lead in the first two quarters. Her inferno was contrasted by the Bulldogs' frigid shooting. Yale shot just 36.5% from the field, with a scoring drought of over four minutes during the second quarter. Yale’s leading scorer on the season — Jenna Clark — was held to just 14 points on 6-18 shooting for the night.

Despite Penn being the away team, Yale was the group doing the traveling. The Bulldogs committed a flurry of traveling violations over the course of the contest — the result of both solid defensive footwork from the Quakers and their own mistakes. Overall, Yale turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 17 Penn points.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Yale's bulldog mascot Handsome Dan attended the women's basketball game against Penn at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in New Haven, Conn. on Feb. 17.

In Ivy League play this season, Penn is a staggering 6-0 when Padilla scores 20-plus points — compared to 1-3 when she does not. That figure is emblematic of Padilla’s importance to the team, a group that she believes is hitting its stride at the right time.

“We’ve really been peaking in terms of execution lately, and not necessarily in terms of playing harder, but playing smarter,” Padilla said. “I’ve just been fortunate enough to be able to convert on a pretty efficient basis.”

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil Junior forward Jordan Obi attempts a jump shot against Yale's Haley Sabol during the game at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in New Haven, Conn. on Feb. 17.

Padilla’s five shots from long range also moved her within one of tying Penn’s all-time program record — currently held by Karen Habrukowich, who played with the Quakers from 2002-05. As she enters the final stretch of her Penn career, Padilla says that an all-time record would be “nice,” but that her ultimate focus is on the team and its pursuit of a title.

“As my time here is winding down, I just want to have made an impact on different levels,” Padilla said. “[The record] is a great honor, but it’d mean more to finish out and get a championship with this team.”

Penn will have less than 24 hours to travel and prepare for a contest against Brown in Providence, R.I. tomorrow evening. The game will tip off at 5:00 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPN3.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Freshman guard Simone Sawyer shoots from the three-point line during the away game at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in New Haven, Conn. on Feb. 17.

It is a lightning quick turnaround, one that both McLaughlin and Padilla stressed the grueling nature of. But the Ivy League tournament is played over the course of two days in Princeton, N.J., meaning that if Penn wants to realize its championship aspirations, its most important back-to-back is yet to come.