The sum of Bashaara Graves' performance against Notre Dame last Monday added up differently.
From Irish coach Muffet McGraw's perspective, the 19 points scored by the Tennessee women's basketball freshman foreshadowed a bright future.
"She was a really tough match-up for us," McGraw said. "She's going to be a phenomenal player."
Two days later, Graves couldn't consider her scoring against the Irish without also tallying her 5-for-17 shooting from the floor.
"Even though I had 19 points," she said, "that was still nothing because I missed a lot of easy shots."
The Lady Vols need to strike a balance between these viewpoints going forward. Graves is the most established post player left standing for No. 9 Tennessee (17-4, 8-0 SEC) with a road game at Missouri (14-8, 3-5) today (TV: CSS, 2 p.m.).
Starting center Isabelle Harrison underwent surgery Friday to repair the lateral meniscus in her left knee. The sophomore center is out indefinitely.
The Lady Vols need Graves to continue being the sturdy oak of a player that McGraw raved about.
But they don't want her overly burdened by self-criticism as she becomes the focal point of the opposition's interior defense.
"We don't want Bashaara to feel like she's on an island alone; she's going to have help," UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "However, her role is certainly accentuated."
With Harrison out, UT intends to rotate Cierra Burdick, who returned Thursday after missing eight games with a fractured right hand, Nia Moore, Jasmine Jones and even Taber Spani at the power forward position. To varying degrees, this foursome can enhance all facets of Tennessee's play.
But none of these players will be mistaken for Graves, who earned the nickname "the beast" early this season and has been living up to it ever since. The 6-foot-2 forward has recorded eight double-doubles for points and rebounds. She has been named SEC freshman of the week four times, which leads all freshmen. She's established 23 points and 14 rebounds as single-game career highs so far. Furthermore, she's logged at least 34 minutes in six games, including the full 40 against Notre Dame.
"I look at myself as being more of a leader now, especially with people going down," Graves said. "Even though I'm a freshman, I still have to be out there and play like I'm an upperclassman."
The coaches planted the latter thought in Graves' mind early this season and she's nurtured it. With her play in mind, she's conscious of drinking more water and managing her time appropriately. She's also downsized her menu options at McDonald's — or at least she's trying.
"I've cut out burgers," she said. "I don't really eat fries that much anymore. I'm trying to cut out sweet tea but it's not working that well. I've been working on it."
The challenge of another Graves personal project was evident when she slammed her hand down in disgust on the Thompson-Boling Arena court after missing two shot attempts on the same possession against Notre Dame.
"That hurt a little bit, too," she said. "I always have that problem of being too hard on myself. When I first got here, I was really hard on myself and the coaches were telling me you can't be like that all the time. You have to control your emotions. I think I've been doing a good job of it but sometimes it still gets out. I just have to keep working on it."
Lockwood doesn't want Graves feeling overwhelmed or lugging frustration from possession to possession.
She already has enough of a role to bear.