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Transfer Mulligan Helps Keep Palos Verdes at Top of Game : Basketball: After a standout season at Santa Margarita High, junior point guard becomes the Lady Sea Kings’ scoring and assist leader.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outside the gym at Palos Verdes High, you can walk about 50 yards--right to the point where California stops and the Pacific Ocean starts--look down on Los Angeles and gaze at possibly the greatest sunset locale in the world.

Inside the school’s gymnasium, if you are a basketball junkie, things are just as impressive.

This is where the Lady Sea Kings practice their back-picks and post defense. Palos Verdes, the Ocean League co-champion, is rated No. 22 nationally by USA Today . The Lady Sea Kings, whose front court averages 6-foot-4, finished the regular season with a 120-20 victory over rival Rolling Hills.

In the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs, they cruised to a 70-point victory over Laguna Hills. They culminated the section playoffs Saturday with a 69-36 championship victory over Lompoc to improve to 28-2 heading into next week’s State regional tournament.

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After this day’s practice, Kristen Mulligan, Palos Verdes’ 5-7 junior point guard, is horsing around with teammate Monique Morehouse.

Quickly, she dribbles through her legs, crosses ball in front of her and dribbles in front of her body with her right hand. Mulligan then spins by the 6-3 forward and scoops the ball into the basket from about 11 feet. The pony-tailed teen does this casually, then giggles.

“She’s what you call a player,” said Wendell Yoshida, the Palos Verdes coach. “She’s a player in the truest sense of the word.”

Last year Mulligan was a standout as a sophomore at Santa Margarita High in Orange County. She was the county’s second-best scorer, averaging 24 points, and was an All-Olympic League selection. She transferred to Palos Verdes before the season, and is the Lady Sea Kings’ leading scorer and passer, averaging 12.4 points and 5.1 assists.

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Mulligan is a big reason for Palos Verdes’ success. The Lady Sea Kings blew out Palo Robles, 83-38, in the quarterfinals and defeated Pomona Ganesha, 78-54, in the semifinals. Against Lompoc, she scored a game-high 24 points and had seven steals.

“The best thing she does is make good decisions,” Yoshida said. “She runs the show well, and makes decisions which you can’t teach. She has a lot of natural ability, has got a lot of skills, and makes the big plays for us.”

Jeffra Gausepohl, a 6-5 center who averages 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, said: “Sometimes, Kristy will come up with really good passes where you have no idea how she got the ball in there.”

Mulligan, who started playing basketball in the fourth grade when she joined a boys’ league, is one of four transfers on the Palos Verdes roster. She decided to enroll at Palos Verdes because of basketball, although it meant moving to an area where the Mulligans’ rent is $600 more than their house payments in Orange County. Kristen’s mother, Mary, has taken a full-time job to help make payments.

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“It was my parents’ decision to transfer,” Mulligan said. “The reason was basketball. Last year, I was frustrated because nobody cared about the team. I had three coaches in two years. No one cared at all. I was going to go to a public school anyway, so we enrolled here.”

Yoshida, 32, takes pride in the program he has helped create at Palos Verdes, a school where, Yoshida says, 97% of the graduates go on to college. Seven Lady Sea Kings have competed collegiately.

Palos Verdes had won four consecutive Bay league titles before it switched to the Ocean League this season. It had a league winning streak that reached 52 games before a loss to Morningside this season. In league play, Palos Verdes outscored its opponents by an average of 49 points.

Yoshida puts an emphasis on his players understanding the game, constantly asking where they should be in this situation, or what to do when a defense overplays the passing lanes.

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Over the summer, the team has a conditioning program, which helped get the returning players familiar with the transfers. Yoshida also brought in a “shot doctor” to work with the girls at the start of the season.

“I told Kristen and the team that no one will average more than 15 points a game,” Yoshida said. “We do things as a team. Nothing is centered around one kid. We allow kids to show their stuff, but within our system.”

For Mulligan that meant chopping her scoring average in half.

“The transition was not difficult at all,” Mulligan said. “I like to drive and (pass) rather than score anyway. I’d rather dish off and get assists anyway. It’s easier for me than having to score.”

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Said Yoshida: “There are a couple of reasons she’s not scoring. We have a lot more talent than her team last year. She does not have to do everything. Can you imagine coming out every night where you have to score 30 for it to be close? Here, she can score eight and we can win.

“Last year people depended on her to score. This year, we need her to be a playmaker.”

Next season, too. All five starters are underclassmen.


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