Taylor Chavez watched her team in defeat from the sidelines during last year’s Final Four loss. Due to injury, she was forced to observe her team’s highest highs and lowest lows during its historic NCAA Tournament run without lacing up and stepping onto the court.
This year, however, is a different story.
Healthy again, Chavez can now contribute to her team in the way that she wants to. The sophomore positioned herself to play with the starting five the past two games in the absence of junior forward Satou Sabally, who is currently playing in Europe for her native Germany’s national team.
In Sabally’s place, Chavez has stepped into the role with confidence alongside the overwhelming support from her teammates.
In Wednesday’s win against Utah State, she proved that she can fill a starting position without missing a beat. Chavez ended the night with a career-high 23 points that included 6-9 shooting from deep from various spots beyond the arc.
Her shooting, nevertheless, was amplified by her teammate’s support, yelling and cheering her on from the sidelines throughout the game.
“When you have your teammates yelling at you, Sabrina [Ionescu] yelling at you to shoot the ball, that’s all the confidence you need, really,” Chavez said.
The guard bounced back from an uninspired shooting performance in the season opener against Northeastern, as she shot 1-2 from the three and 1-3 in field goals overall. But on Wednesday she put all of that behind her and focused on the next task at hand.
Oregon bounced back as a team from an off shooting night on Monday, with the sophomore adding to the Ducks’ tremendous offensive night on Wednesday, drilling 53 percent from distance and 56 percent from the field overall.
The coaches talked to the whole team after Monday’s win and told them to keep shooting, keep working on their shot and they will eventually fall. That time came for Chavez tonight.
Even after airballing her first shot of the game in the first quarter, she never put her head down, and kept shooting. Soon after that, she found her rhythm.
“It felt good, I just was just off,” Chavez said. “So it’s just the same mentality every shot, just know that it’s going in and not letting yourself get in a hole.”
A couple possessions later, Ruthy Hebard ripped down a rebound surrounded by two blue jerseys and kicked it out for a Chavez wide-open three deep on the left wing.
She followed her first three of the night with five more triples throughout the game, shooting it with ease and confidence each and every time. It wasn’t only Chavez’s distance shooting that spurred her the game’s MVP, but her hustle on both ends of the floor shined as well.
Toward the end of the second quarter, Chavez hit a three on the left wing and with no time for celebration, sprinted back on transition defense with a block on Emmie Harris’ attempted right side layup. She didn’t stop there. Back on the offensive end, Chavez threw an outlet pass to a leaking Jaz Shelley in the right corner for a three.
That was just a glimpse on her impact in Wednesday’s game.
“For Taylor, that was really great to see,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “She’s a good player, and harking back to last year, things could have ended differently if Taylor was healthy. She’s a really great player and competitor, so I’m happy for her.”
Follow Carly on Twitter @carlyebisuya.