November 24, 2023
‘Outside shooter deluxe’: How Harvard’s Lola Mullaney quietly keeps on scoring
Mullaney isn’t the Crimson’s leading scorer anymore, but she’s as critical as anyone to their success
When Harvard opened the 2023-24 season at Maryland on Nov. 6, it offered a taste of home for Harvard guard Lola Mullaney and Maryland forward Faith Masonius, who were teammates at Manasquan High School in New Jersey but had never faced each other in college.
Masonius admitted she gave the Maryland staff “a little bit” of help with the scouting report on Mullaney, a senior captain who has over 1,200 points and 200 made 3-pointers for the Crimson.
“They had it pretty much down … but I told them, I’m like, ‘Look, that release is a lot quicker than you think,’” Masonius told The Next.
Maryland locked in on Mullaney, forcing her into a few more misses than usual. But she still hit four 3-pointers en route to 17 points, one of her highest totals ever against a power-conference team.
“She was a great player in high school,” Masonius said, “and has just grown into that responsibility of being a shooter for her team. It’s a big responsibility. You can’t take a night off.”
Though Mullaney’s shooting is a point of emphasis on every scouting report, she is sometimes overlooked publicly because of who else is on the Harvard roster. There’s Harmoni Turner, a dazzling and athletic First Team All-Ivy League point guard. There’s forward/guard Elena Rodriguez, who was arguably the Ivy League’s most improved player last season and competed with the Under-20 Spanish national team this summer. Last season, there was also senior McKenzie Forbes, who electrified the Ivy League Tournament with her scoring and is now starting for USC as a graduate transfer.
“I think [Lola is] incredibly underrated,” Harvard head coach Carrie Moore told The Next, “and just such a huge part of what we do.”
The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom
The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Mullaney has been known as a shooter for essentially her whole career. In elementary school, people said she was “too tall and too good” to play with other girls, so she was sent to play with the boys. She made all her shots with two hands as she gained strength, only switching to a more typical one-handed release as a high school freshman.
In middle school, Mullaney realized she wanted to play collegiately, and she initially envisioned herself at a Power Five school, she told the “Buddy Ball” podcast in 2021. But her brother Max played football and her aunt had played basketball at Columbia, and after some prodding from her mother to consider the Ivy League, Mullaney realized she wanted that experience, too.
Once she was old enough that college coaches were allowed to call her, the first to reach out was Moore, who was then an assistant coach at Princeton. But Princeton, located about an hour from her high school, felt too close, and another Ivy League school had already caught her eye.
As a high school freshman, Mullaney and her mother had taken an unofficial visit to Harvard. The campus didn’t put its best foot forward that day — it was abnormally hot outside, and Lavietes Pavilion, which houses the Crimson’s home court and the coaches’ offices, was being renovated.
“We had a double-wide trailer that we had to do the unofficial visit in,” then-Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith told The Next, “and it was gross.”
“That’s where we were, but she still got me,” Mullaney told The Next. “… I kind of just fell in love with the campus and the people and the coaches. But I did go on visits after that. But I always just felt different when I was here.”
During the recruiting process, Delaney-Smith loved Mullaney’s shooting and coachability, and Mullaney put both on display as soon as she arrived on campus in fall 2019. Guard Katie Benzan, who had become Harvard’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers as a junior, was sitting out her senior season to play elsewhere as a graduate student, so Delaney-Smith needed offense. And in preseason practices, Mullaney was excelling at the competitive shooting drills Delaney-Smith put her team through.
“Her numbers were always incredible,” Delaney-Smith said, “and her confidence — well, if it fluctuated, she never let it [show].”
Those results prompted Delaney-Smith to gush about Mullaney to The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, before Mullaney had even played a college game. “She may be the best shooter to ever play here if she continues the way she’s going,” said Delaney-Smith, who had coached the Crimson for nearly four decades by then.
The Crimson published that quotation the day of Harvard’s season opener at Northern Illinois, and Mullaney did not disappoint. Then-associate head coach Mike Roux reminded her before the game, “You’re not on the scout. They don’t know who you are; make sure you show them.” She responded with 25 points, including six 3-pointers, and seven rebounds.
Mullaney rarely slowed down the rest of her freshman season, leading Harvard in scoring at 15.1 points per game and making 35.2% of her 3-pointers. She ranked ninth in the nation in 3-pointers made per game (3.1) and ninth in attempts per game (9.2). She also ranked in the 77th percentile nationally in total win shares, won Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times and was named All-Ivy Honorable Mention at the end of the season.
“I think I just came in my freshman year trying to not think that I was a freshman because I knew that there was opportunity to play … and I kind of made it my mission to just show them the player that I was,” Mullaney said. “… I just came in with a lot of confidence.”
“She wasn’t … young. When I say ‘young,’ I mean prone to lots of mistakes that you can’t predict, you can’t control … Lola never had that young,” Delaney-Smith said.
Your business can reach over 1 million women’s sports fans every single month!
Here at The Next and The IX, our audience is a collection of the smartest, most passionate women’s sports fans in the world. If your business has a mission to serve these fans, reach out to Christie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss ways to work together.
Mullaney waited 18 months to take the court again, as COVID-19 prompted the Ivy League to cancel the 2020-21 season. She took the year off from Harvard to preserve her Ivy eligibility, and when she returned as a sophomore in fall 2021, the Crimson had more scoring around her. Turner had arrived as a freshman, and Forbes had transferred in from California.
Harvard’s offense changed as a result, playing at a faster pace and getting more fast-break points. Turner and Forbes led the Crimson in scoring at 15.9 and 14.1 points per game, respectively, while Mullaney averaged 12.7. Mullaney took fewer shots per game than she had as a freshman, but she got a greater share of them at the rim. In addition, 53.3% of her catch-and-shoot jump shots as a sophomore were unguarded, up from 43.3% as a freshman.
Though Mullaney wasn’t the leading scorer that season, Delaney-Smith said she called lots of “must-score plays” for Mullaney in both her freshman and sophomore seasons because of her “pure, incredible” shooting. And Mullaney still had big scoring nights as a sophomore, including a then-career-high 27 points at Yale on 7-for-13 3-point shooting.
“I would say unequivocally everybody thinks when it leaves her hands, it’s going in, including myself,” Delaney-Smith said. “That’s how I felt. She truly did have the green light. … I don’t remember ever feeling like I didn’t want Lola to shoot. I always wanted Lola to shoot, always.”
Delaney-Smith retired after Mullaney’s sophomore year, and when Moore took over, it felt to Mullaney like “a full-circle moment” from her recruiting process. In some ways, it also felt like her freshman year again as she learned a new system and proved herself to the staff.
But Mullaney stayed confident, and she remained an integral part of the offense under Moore. She was Harvard’s second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game and was named Second Team All-Ivy after two straight honorable mentions. She was also a more efficient scorer than she had been in her first two seasons: Her effective field goal percentage rose by about 8 percentage points, and she shot better on all types of shots, especially those at the rim.
|Effective Field Goal Percentage by Shot Type
On Jan. 6 against Brown, Mullaney reset her career high, feasting on the Bears’ zone defense to score 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including 6-for-10 on 3-pointers. Yet she was perhaps even more crucial to her team a few weeks later amid a rash of injuries.
Harvard had just seven healthy players — the Ivy League minimum to compete — against Dartmouth on Jan. 16 and eight a week later at Cornell. Over those two games, Mullaney averaged 38.5 minutes and 18.5 points while shooting nearly 60% from the field and from 3-point range.
“I definitely was in the zone,” Mullaney said. “I remember in practice, I just couldn’t miss a shot. And some of the shots I don’t even take that often. So everyone was just like, ‘What the hell?’”
“She was our rock,” Moore said. “… Everything that left her hands, I felt like it was going in. And she was unconscious, and we needed it. … I was running typical plays for her, but I was running like wing Iverson iso clear-outs. I was like, ‘Whatever she puts up is going in, so let’s call it for her.’”
Mullaney caught fire in a similar way in the WNIT, where Harvard won three games before falling in the quarterfinals to Columbia. In the first two games, Mullaney averaged 22.0 points per game and made 12 total 3-pointers on 57.1% shooting from deep. She scored in a different way in the third victory, hitting all eight of her free throws and four 2-pointers en route to 19 points.
Now in her senior year, the word is fully out on her shooting ability, Mullaney concedes. Opponents know her every move and are dedicated to shutting her down. That can be frustrating, especially when she’s getting held off the ball, but she tries to use that defensive attention to get her teammates open.
Early in the season, it’s been a challenge for Moore, too, figuring out how to get Mullaney open while integrating two new starters. Moore puts Mullaney among the top shooters she’s ever coached, alongside former Michigan guard Maddie Nolan (a career 36.9% 3-point shooter) and some of her guards at Creighton in the early 2010s in an offense that revolved around 3-pointers. So Moore has talked with Mullaney about finding ways to get shots off even when contested, with smart off-ball movement or quick footwork, and complementing her 3-pointers with drives and pull-ups.
“We gotta find a way to get her [more] shots … because she’s such a huge part. I mean, last year she was, but this year, even more,” Moore said. “… We very much stress we need to push in transition because sometimes that’s probably the best opportunity we can get for her …
“She’s gonna very much draw attention to herself just based on what she’s done and her statistics from last year, and I think once we find our flow a little bit, too, as a group … she’ll reap the benefits.”
Still, Mullaney is finding ways to score — and she has also improved her defense, rebounding and ball-handling, which help her contribute in other ways. Through five games, Mullaney is averaging 15.0 points, second-most on the team behind Turner, on 42.9% shooting from the field and 41.3% from 3-point range. She is averaging career highs in rebounds (6.0 per game) and steals (1.8) and recorded her first career double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) against Quinnipiac on Nov. 12. She dropped a season-high 23 points on Massachusetts on Nov. 16, including seven 3-pointers, and 19 points with five 3-pointers at Baylor on Nov. 19.
“My favorite thing about Lola,” Turner told reporters in October, “is … every time I pass her the ball, I just go ahead and get back on defense because she’s that great of a shooter. I have so much confidence in her.”
One sequence against Baylor showed the dilemma Mullaney now poses for defenses. In the span of 38 seconds in the first quarter, she drained a 3-pointer, then recognized her defender was guarding her tightly on the next possession and blew by her for a layup. Harvard’s “outside shooter deluxe,” as broadcaster Jim Haller called her, had flipped a 9-5 deficit into a 10-9 lead.
The Crimson eventually lost 81-71 to the Bears, who were ranked No. 21 in the country at the time, and fell to 3-2 this season. Picked third in the Ivy League preseason poll, Harvard is still seeking a signature nonconference win, with another chance coming on Dec. 2 against Michigan.
Getting that signature win is high on Mullaney’s list of goals for this season, alongside winning the Crimson’s first Ivy League title since 2007-08. Individually, she wants to cap her career with a First Team All-Ivy selection before playing professionally overseas or entering coaching.
She is also delivering on Delaney-Smith’s preseason prediction from four years ago: She needs 51 more 3-pointers to break Benzan’s program record for career 3-pointers, which would also put her second in Ivy League history.
Throughout her career, Mullaney has always been a shooter — “a steady … bomber,” as Moore put it. Paradoxically, after starring for Harvard as a freshman, Mullaney slid into the background even as her game got better and more expansive. But the confidence remained, and so the shooting continued.
“That’s why I love the growth of Lola,” Delaney-Smith said. “She’s had to learn to play in someone else’s shadow even though she’s such a pure shooter and such a great shooter. I really respect that.”
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.