Alicia Manning delivers energy, effort

Vicki Baugh has been to a Final Four and won a national title so she knows what it takes to successfully navigate the NCAA postseason. After the Lady Vols eliminated Marquette to reach the Sweet 16, the redshirt junior forward saluted the hustle and hard work of Alicia Manning.

"A-Town has been great for us," Vicki Baugh said, referring to the nickname for Alicia Manning, who is from Woodstock, Ga., near Atlanta. "She's stepped up her game and that's what everyone has to do in order for us to get to a Final Four.

"Right now I am looking at A-Town and saying, ‘Everyone needs to be playing with that same energy and intensity.' She has what it takes right now in the tournament."

Baugh wasn't kidding. She said that exact thing in the locker room out loud to her teammates immediately after the 79-70 won over Marquette on Monday, the 50th win for Tennessee, 33-2, at home in the NCAA Tournament and one in which senior Angie Bjorklund said the outcome could have been different without the vocal support of the Lady Vol fans.

Next up for No. 1 seed Tennessee is a matchup with No. 4 seed Ohio State, 24-9, in the Buckeyes home state in Dayton, Ohio. Tipoff is set for noon Eastern (ESPN) at the Dayton Arena with No. 2 seed Notre Dame and No. 6 seed Oklahoma to follow at 2:30 p.m. The winners will meet Monday with a berth to the Final Four on the line.

Ohio State should have plenty of support in the stands, and the Tennessee fans always show up wherever the team lands in postseason.

Manning is likely to come off the bench as she has done in 33 games this season and provide whatever the team needs at the time from lockdown defense to crucial rebounds. She also can provide some offense as she did against Marquette, including a three-pointer, with 11 points.

After the SEC tourney title game against Kentucky, Pat Summitt mentioned Manning's name in her opening remarks to the media, an indication that the junior forward was on the coach's mind. Manning had 11 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the 90-65 win in Nashville. Summitt mentioned Manning's name a few more times during the press conference.

"It does feel good to hear it," Manning said when told later of the head coach's unprompted shout-outs. "I just take care of the intangible stuff and the stuff that you can control. You can always hustle. You can always play defense. There are certain things you can control. Offensively, your shots are not always going to fall, so I just take care of the things I can."

Six of Manning's boards in that Kentucky game came on the defensive end, part of the reason she was inserted on the court because the Wildcats had dominated the offensive glass. Manning did her part, but Kentucky finished with 31 offensive boards, a figure that still stuck in the coaches' craw several days later.

"Victoria Dunlap and several of the other players on the team were great offensive rebounders," Manning said. "It can't just be the posts, and it can't just be the guards (crashing the boards for Tennessee). It has to be all five people out there on the court, and we didn't do that. We didn't focus on that.

"It might have been because we were hitting so many shots on offense and it wasn't really a big deal. But I think it's a big deal. Offensive rebounding is a quick way for a team to go on runs and get momentum in the game. We just can't let that happen in the postseason."

Manning is 6'1 so she's undersized for the post and her three ball remains a work in progress – and got much better late in the season – so she's not a lock for the wing spot, either. Still, she has carved out an average of 16.8 minutes a game on a deep team and was on the court in crunch time against Marquette.

"She's like the X-factor," Summitt said. "She can come in and play multiple positions. She's got toughness to her game. With that I really like what she brings to our team. She's got a lot of grit and a lot of focus. I think she is a very strong vocal leader as well."

 During practice Manning will work with the guards in drills and then head to the opposite end of the court to battle with the posts.

"I love it," Manning said. "It's more fun. I love facing up as far as playing guard, and when I'm in the post I can go with the high-low and pass to my post down low. It gives me more opportunity to do what I want to do.

"Coach always says rebounding wins championships so without that we're not going to make it very far."

When Manning enters the game, it means Shekinna Stricklen usually shifts to the wing.

"She would rather face up to the basket," Manning said. "Before that she was playing point guard, which kind of limits her opportunity to score a little bit more. But now she's in her primetime position and doing what she wants to do and that's what she's been doing – playing to her strengths and leading the team by example. She's doing a great job for us.

"From her freshman year until now you can see how much she has evolved vocally. She is not afraid to say anything, and that is what we need. We all have to hold each other accountable."

After the Marquette game it was Stricklen's teammates who spoke to her after being more aggressive, even if she is in the paint to open the game. Stricklen said it was pointed out to her that she logs a lot of minutes, and the team needs her.

Stricklen was voted the SEC Player of the Year by the coaches and made the 40-player cut, along with Glory Johnson, for the 2011 State Farm All-America team, which is selected by the WBCA.

"She has a little glow about her," Manning said. "Who wouldn't be? There are so many teams in this conference and to be the top notch among all the great players in our conference is a big deal. I'm proud of her and I'm really happy for her.

"This might give her a little extra boost to know that she has a target on her back now, and she wants to prove to everybody that she deserves the award and she's a force to be reckoned with."

Manning didn't turn up on those lists, but her minutes on the floor are just as valuable to the Lady Vols. Despite being eighth on the team in minutes played, Manning is third on the team in steals at 40.

"Her deflections, and she's always in the passing lanes, she just creates energy on defense for us," sophomore guard/forward Taber Spani said. "That's an asset we all thrive off of, too."

Manning has 53 assists to 37 turnovers. She averages 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game and has hit 76.8 percent (43-56) of her free throws and 49.2 percent (65-132) of her shots. She had the chance to score twice late in a semifinal game in the SEC tourney but backed out the ball to set up shots for reserves Briana Bass and Sydney Smallbone.

"That's being a team player," Johnson said after that game. "She wanted Briana to get a shot. She wanted Sydney to get a shot. Bree and Syd don't get as much playing time as everyone else."

Spani has started 25 games this season and when Manning enters it can be for Spani, though the two are flexible enough to stay on the floor together at times, too. Both players can post up, though Spani is more effective shooting from the perimeter, while Manning can take defenders off the bounce.

Both are 6'1 with solid frames who don't hesitate to pursue loose balls and crash the glass.

"We are similar in a lot of ways," Spani said. "We both love working hard, and I respect that about A-Town. She is a competitor."

There are differences, too. Spani, a lefty, has long three-ball range, and Manning, a righty, is more effective as a midrange shooter/slasher - she has worked on her offensive game this season to earn more minutes - and relishes playing defense.

"Obviously, she's the ultimate blue-collar worker, and defense is what she loves to do," Spani said. "That is something that we all love to do, but she is just very talented at that. Her offensive game, she's worked at it, and she's gotten a lot better and she's helped us."

Manning's work ethic doesn't go unnoticed by her teammates and coaches. Stricklen even has a nickname for her.

"We call her the ‘Dirty Girl,' " Stricklen said.

"In a very complimentary way," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said with a smile. "Let's clear that up."

"She likes doing the dirty work on the court," Stricklen said. "We like that, and we need that. A-Town brings a lot of energy to this team. She brings a lot of heart and hustle. When she comes in we know that she's going to give 100 percent or more.

"Coach stays on us about defense, and she just loves playing defense."

Stricklen does like playing on the wing, but she recognized how well Manning was playing against Marquette - Manning hit a three-pointer - and stayed in the paint.

"She was hitting outside, and I wasn't," Stricklen said. "I was like, ‘No, you stay outside, and I'll stay inside.' We communicate when she comes in."

Manning has the trust of the coaches because they know what they will get every time she takes the court.

"You don't have to watch A-Town to see her physical energy, the sheer force of her energy, how she plays, she brings such a spirit to the court," Lockwood said. "She is somebody that literally has no fear of any single player on the floor. She will guard a big. She will guard a point guard. She has no fear of any cover that you assign to her.

"She's not afraid of physical contact. She's not afraid of exertion and effort."

Manning has received her share of abuse, too. She was left with claw marks on her face last season after playing LSU that somehow left no permanent scarring and because she plays so much in the paint against bigger players she gets knocked around and sometimes down.

But she also emerges from these scrums with the ball and hasn't missed a game because of injury. Manning shows the same fortitude in practice against the male scout team and always gets back up and back on the court.

"In fact the grimier the game gets and the more grinding out, the better she shines," Lockwood said. "Those are rare players. Those are very special players, and I think she gives us that. When she's confident in what she can do offensively, like her midrange shot, a pull-up, occasionally she's hit some threes for us, when she's giving us that, she's giving us a whole lot even more.

"But the initial thing she gives us is just an energy and a toughness on our floor that we love and that this team really needs."


The Lady Vols practiced Thursday in Pratt Pavilion and then departed for Dayton, Ohio, by charter flight. Tennessee will meet with the media Friday at Dayton Arena and then hold a closed practice, except for the first 15 minutes during which media can observe, by NCAA rules.

Clips from Thursday's practice.

Taber Spani

Alicia Manning

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