Bashaara Graves on Stanford and Christmas break
Tennessee's Bashaara Graves doesn't feel any different about what happened Tuesday at Baylor than she did last month after the women's basketball season opener at Chattanooga.
"A loss is a loss," the freshman forward said.
In this case, her thought makes sense. Defense, rebounding and composure were concerns after losing 80-71 to start the season. They're still relevant after Tuesday's 76-53 rout at the hands of the Lady Bears.
If only the same logic applied to summoning a comeback. Bouncing back against Georgia Tech after stumbling over the Lady Mocs doesn't compare with the No. 10 Lady Vols (7-2) trying to right themselves against No. 1 Stanford (10-0) Saturday (TV: SportSouth, MyVLT, 4 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Cardinal beat Baylor, 71-69, on Nov. 16 at the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu. Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike casts a long shadow, averaging 21.9 points and 12.2 rebounds per game and shooting 63.8 percent from the floor.
While a 53-49 struggle at No. 21 South Carolina on Wednesday didn't suggest invincibility, the victory said something about the Cardinal's toughness and depth. Stanford trailed by two points with 2:32 left before rallying in a raucous environment. Forward Mikaela Ruef scored just two baskets against the Gamecocks, but one broke a 45-45 tie with 53 seconds left.
Tennessee coaches entertained the thought this week that their youthful squad might be better served by playing a lesser opponent after Tuesday's loss. But they didn't embrace the notion. Assistant coach Dean Lockwood instead put his arms around a challenge that represents the best a Final Four might offer.
"At some point, if we're going to go where we want to get back to, we're going to have to play back-to-back games like this," he said. "So this is as good a time to do it as any."
After facing Baylor, Lockwood said there should be no illusions going forward.
"We got face to face with a real dragon," he said. "... and now we see where we've got to go to slay it.
Along with getting better, Tennessee has been preoccupied with getting well in advance of today's game. The prognosis for sophomore center Isabelle Harrison has been hopeful. She sat out the Baylor game after suffering a sprained right ankle Sunday against Texas.
With school out, the players were charged with reviewing the Baylor game and doing their own scouting reports for Stanford.
"They can formulate their ideas,'' Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. "We may not use them but they get the opportunity to watch a tape and figure out what we're going to do.
"I think it's a great exercise for them and a great building tool for us."
Warlick and her staff definitely will echo Graves' suggestion for better communication on defense.
"We didn't talk a lot on defense, that stood out to me a lot," she said, referring to the Baylor game. "Talking would solve a lot of our problems."
More toughness and attention to detail regarding defense and rebounding will be on the agenda, no matter who gets credit for it.
"It's going to be a real test of our resilience, our ability to bounce back, our ability to attack consecutive opponents of this nature," Lockwood said. "I think it's going to be very good barometer for our team."