It’s called March Madness for a reason — the single-elimination college basketball tournament is fast-paced and increasingly popular. Teams at the Division I level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have seen this tournament as pivotal in their careers.

For women, 351 NCAA member institutions sponsor basketball teams. This represents about 5,000 student-athletes. Among them, two Latinas have caused a stir this year.

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One of those Latinas is Duke senior guard Celeste Taylor, who leads a handful of Latina superstars this year.

Celeste Taylor, the NCAA’s top guard

Among the Latinas playing in this year’s NCAA tournament, Celeste Taylor is one of those who has caught the attention of professionals and fans alike.

Once her career began at Valley Stream South High School during her seventh-grade year, Taylor transferred to Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in Brookville, New York. She was a starter in her freshman year.

Taylor was New York’s Gatorade Player of the Year in her senior year. She was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.

Rated a five-star recruit by ESPN, she committed to play college basketball at Texas over offers from Stanford, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and South Carolina, among other programs.

In her first year at Texas, Taylor averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, leading the team with 31 three-pointers. She made it to the Big 12 All-Freshman team.

“Celeste is one of the finest two-way players in the country,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “The plays that she makes have a direct influence on winning games.” And for Taylor’s coach, that’s the “highest compliment” she can give a player.

“What allows her to be an excellent player, first, [is that] she’s very intelligent on both ends,” Lawson added.

As explained by Our Esquina, Taylor has averaged a team-high 11.2 points, 29 minutes, and 1.9 steals per game. The senior out of the University of Texas has 60 steals this season and has multiple in a game 16 times for the No. 3 seed Blue Devils.

“And she anticipates well, and she has really explosive athleticism,” Lawson added. “So you couple that brain with explosive athleticism, and well, it’s hard. She’s everywhere. And she gets deflections out in transition. She finishes. She really leads our team in every way.”

Gabriela Jaquez is not far behind

One of the most talked about athletes in this year’s NCAA Tournament, where 20 Latinas will participate, is Gabriela Jaquez.

The 5-foot-11 forward has averaged 6.4 points per game this year as a freshman for the Bruins. She is now a crucial player for the UCLA women’s team.

In 2021, Jaquez scored 52 points in a playoff game, the second-highest total in Ventura County women’s basketball history. The Latina came to UCLA for the 2022-2023 season as one of the nation’s top 20 basketball recruits.

Jaquez averaged 24.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.5 steals, and 2.1 assists throughout her high school career at Camarillo (Calif.).

In her final season, she posted an impressive 34.2 points per game and 15.7 rebounds. 

Jaquez made it to the 2022 McDonald’s All-American Team and shared McDonald’s All-American game Co-MVP honors with teammate Kiki Rice. Jaquez was a Jordan Brand All-American. She won the Nike Girls EYBL National Championship in 2021 with Cal Stars.