For Taylor Chavez, playing on one of the highest-ranked teams in the country is nothing new.
For three seasons, Chavez was part of an Oregon team that was consistently one of the elites. Now she’s with the seventh-ranked Arizona Wildcats as they try to reach their second consecutive Final Four.
Chavez’s former and current schools will collide for the first time on Saturday, when Arizona (12-1, 2-1 Pac-12) takes on Oregon (8-5, 1-1 Pac-12) at Matthew Knight Arena.
“I’m just trying not to think about it too much and prepare for it like any other game because in reality, that’s what it is,” the reserve guard said. “I’m here at UA now and these are my teammates. Now, of course, I have good relationships with my former teammates at Oregon. But I know that goes to the side once I step on the court. We’re all highly competitive. It’s fun now just to be back and see old friends.”
Chavez is typically the first one on the court for pregame shots. She doesn’t plan to break that routine to chat with her former teammates. Instead, the Surprise native might say a quick hello to a former trainer or coach.
The Star talked to Chavez on Friday and learned about overcoming the aftereffects of the flu, playing again in Oregon, and her NIL deals — including one with a non-alcoholic beer company.
Did you get any sleep Thursday night after that exciting last-second 55-53 win over Oregon State? How did you celebrate?
A: “I did, actually. I was a little tired. That game was emotionally draining, to say the least. …We all went as a team and got yogurt. So that was fun. … getting the yogurt last night made everything a little bit more lighthearted. It was a nice relief from the stress from the game.”
What was it like to go into Gil Coliseum to play Oregon State — a former rival of yours — and coming out with a win?
A: “I think that same hostility as it being a former rival is still there … in my mind. It was obviously different. The hostility is a lot less when it’s not a rival. The tension you could feel is a lot different rather than it being an in-state rival. But, you know, like any other game, it’s so highly competitive. And it was exciting just to be back in Oregon. I had some close friends from the time I was here at the game. It was really exciting.”
Thursday night’s television broadcast said you’ve had a concussion and the flu this season. How did you come back from these setbacks?
A: “I thought I had COVID over the break, but luckily it was just the flu — but even then, I still got pretty sick. I lost seven or eight pounds, which was a little frustrating because you know, that’s muscle weight that we’ve been working towards all year. (It’s about) just trying to get my strength back and back to full speed, which I feel like I’m there.”
What did you do to get that strength back, because it’s a lot to lose, especially because it’s muscle weight?
A: “I definitely started eating a little bit more than I normally did. Then luckily, since we had about 10 or 12 days where we didn’t have a game, our strength coach had us lifting a lot heavier and we were practicing more so I feel like I was able to get my strength back pretty quickly.”
On the defensive side, you seem to really fit Arizona defense. Just like Sam Thomas and Bendu Yeaney, a lot of what you do doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. How would you describe your defense?
A: “I try to be in the right place at the right time. We play super aggressive, and you know the confidence to play super-aggressive comes from knowing that you’ll help, and that people are going to rotate and be in the right spot. I definitely would say try to be aggressive and then always try and have my teammates back whether it be in help, whether it be calling a screen out — all those sorts of little things.”
Do you feel any extra pressure this season as a team or individually because you’ve reached this level of being one of the best teams in the nation?
A: “I would put pressure on myself to performs to the best liabilities, but I would say that the environment Coach Adia (Barnes) has created is not hostile at all and it’s very easy to play in and to be a great teammate. … (As a team) it’s just focusing on each game, trying to win each game. We’re not looking long-picture. We don’t want to look past any opponents, because that’s how you get upset.”
As a team what do you need to improve on to be playing your best basketball by March?
A: “Our defensive intensity. When we are all on the same page communicating and playing super hard, we have amazing defense. On offense, one of the main things that Coach Adia has been talking about is our timing and really setting screens and hitting people on screens because a lot of our offenses have a lot of screens, whether it be for guards coming off of flares or down screens or crash screens for posts. I think really hitting those screens and getting other people open with open a lot of things up for us on offense. And of course, just limiting turnovers. As long as you could have low turnovers in a game that’s always going to help your chances. I think that’s another thing we want to work on because we feel like our turnover average in a relatively high in comparison to what we want it to be.”
What do you want to improve on individually over the next month?
A: “I just want to continue to find places to help and sort of define my role a little bit. I feel like I can do everything I just mentioned, I feel like I could do better whether it be turnovers, silly turnovers, setting better screens, being better on offense with regards to timing. The same that thing with the defensive intensity. I feel especially coming off the bench you want to be someone new who comes in and uplifts the style of play. You don’t want to bring it down ever.”
This week you did a podcast with Athletic Brewing, and you have an NIL deal with them. What attracted you to them and how did this come about?
A: “What attracted me to them was they are more so than just non-alcoholic brewing company. They’re more of a lifestyle brand — they promote a lot of good healthy habits. Especially as an athlete, you know, especially being in college, alcohol consumption is rampant. … What a lot of people don’t know (is that) it’s not just a safe alternative from real alcohol; it actually has a lot of health benefits because it is non-alcoholic … it’s a lot similar to Kombucha in regard to health benefits. … Talking to the creators of it, and those who market it, I think we had a lot of similar visions. …
“They find a way to relate it to something that is easily incorporated to a lifestyle. Whether it be you’re on a hike, you’re at a social gathering with friends, now you have the safer alternative or at dinner and you want something to enjoy that’s refreshing and isn’t going to give you the negative health effects that real alcohol with. That’s what I was interested about it.”
What do you do for this partnership besides that podcast and post on your Instagram?
A: “Within the next couple months, on one of my days off, they (will) come to Tucson and do a bunch of different media type of things with me, whether it be they want me to shoot something for a commercial, we haven’t really discussed exactly what that’ll be … whether it’s for videos, photos, another podcast. It’s quite a bit of stuff but I love the brand and it’s fun.”
Do you have any other deals?
A: “I’ve worked with Zappos twice … (and) with Saucony, and I was able to do a couples campaign with them for ASICS. I recently have been talking with the person I work with (Jim Walter) regarding sort of collaboration with PSD underwear. And then I also have been working on a couple other ones; they’re not set in stone yet.”