Tennessee to take on Ole Miss

Alicia Manning arrived for a pre-practice interview Wednesday to discuss the fact she would be starting tonight against Ole Miss for the first time at home. Except she didn't know it yet. With that news out of the way the freshman forward said her approach would be the same: take care of the ball, defend, go to the boards.

"I didn't know that. OK," Alicia Manning said. "I'm pretty excited about it now that you've told me about it."

She laughed when reminded that that could always change with a poor practice, but that didn't happen. After the session Pat Summitt said she was sticking with her decision to deploy a perimeter of big guards – the 6'1 Manning, the 6'0 Angie Bjorklund and the 6'2 Shekinna Stricklen, who will play point guard with the 5'2 Briana Bass coming off the bench.

No. 13/15 Tennessee (15-4, 4-2) takes on Ole Miss (13-7, 2-3) on Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network; TV: ESPNU) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols will try to get back in the win column in conference play and calm down the head coach.

"We're almost at the end of January and we're not committed to a system?" Summitt said. "We're not committed to defending people? It's like no pride from not all of our players but no pride from some of these players, and I don't understand that. You want to be on the big stage, you come to Tennessee, but you don't want to play defense and rebound and be vocal?

"Be careful what you wish for. That's my message. If I don't get ulcers this year it will be a miracle."

That last sentence did cause Summitt to laugh. Despite her frustration with her team's play she has kept her sense of humor.

When asked in her Wednesday morning teleconference if the countdown to 1,000 wins had become a distraction Summitt replied, "I was joking with them, I said, ‘I hope we get it this year.' "

The specter of 1,000 hovers still, and the players are anxious to roll the victory total into quadruple digits.

"We want to get that accomplishment for her," Manning said. "We wanted to try and get it for her at home (tonight), but it didn't work out. We have so much respect for her, and we want to be able to do that for her. I know it's getting hard for her dealing with these losses. She always has a sense of humor, which is good."

In the same teleconference Summitt was asked what the key was to flipping the switch in young players.

"Obviously I must have lost my key," Summitt said.

CBS was in town Wednesday to film a segment about Summitt closing in on 1,000 so it's not something the coach or the team can avoid. The players had talked about wanting to get the milestone victory at home, but Summitt is at 998 so it can't happen tonight against the Rebels. The Lady Vols play in Oklahoma City on Monday against Oklahoma and then return home to face Georgia on Feb. 5 before going back on the road to play Florida on Feb. 8. Seven of the Lady Vols last 10 games were on the road, and two of the next four are away from Knoxville.

"As far as the players are concerned, if the way we played at Auburn is any indication, I don't think they're very focused on it," Summitt said.

That game at Auburn certainly flipped a switch for Summitt. She took a scorched earth approach to Monday's practice and never let up. Afterwards she questioned her team's heart and commitment.

"I actually took that to the heart," Manning said. "That really affected me because it is partly true because there are possessions where we look like we don't have heart. Deep down we do. We've just got to apply it to our effort. That kind of hurt, because there are certain people on the team who go hard every possession and there are some that could do better.

"But overall we're going to get it. I think we are, and I think we're going to end up surprising a lot of people."

Manning sort of welcomed Summitt's wrath, as it were. When Manning missed a box-out on DeWanna Bonner on Sunday, Summitt called timeout and met Manning with her patented stare before she got to the sideline at Auburn.

"What really upset me was that I missed the box-out, because I wasn't expecting the girl to shoot an air ball," Manning said. "It caught me off guard."

That attitude could explain why Manning has moved into the lineup. She also has handled being the target of Summitt's attention.

"When she does break you down then you've got to hold your ground, look into her eyes – sometimes they're scary – show her that you care and listen to what she has to say," Manning said.

Manning also will instinctively rebound – the missed box-out notwithstanding, at least she was at the basket – and that will catch Summitt's eye. Manning set the record for most rebounds in a season with 368 at Etowah High School in Woodstock, Ga., and finished with 1,129 for her prep career.

"I take a lot of pride in that," Manning said.

Manning also has been praised by Summitt for her ability to keep people in front of her on defense. It was her block in the closing seconds against a Stanford player driving to the basket that sent the game into overtime. Manning also holds her high school record for most steals in a season with 108 and most in a game with 11.

A willingness to rebound and play defense will get a player some minutes, especially with Summitt seeking upgrades in both departments.

"I think my role is to get the ball in the right people's hands at the right time," Manning said. "I can be an offensive threat but that's not my role on the team. My role is creating for other people, opportunities for shots like Shekinna or Angie, obviously defense and rebounding."

That doesn't mean Manning should not look for her shot. The McDonald's All-American scored 1,423 points in high school and can hit from long- and midrange. She also can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket.

"I think when I get the opportunity I'll take it," Manning said. "At the beginning of the year she was concentrating on getting me to be patient, slow down, pull back, see what's going on, if you have the opportunity, take it."

Manning was born and raised in Georgia, just a few hours south of Knoxville, so she has been familiar with Lady Vol basketball for years. Summitt's transformation in Monday's practice was not a surprise to the freshman.

"I've heard stories about her," Manning said. "I expected it would be like this from the beginning. I know what potential we can have as a team and Pat's doing everything she can to get it out of us and if she believes that that's how she's going to be able to get it, then I have more trust in her."

When asked how the freshmen handled what was easily the toughest practice of the season in terms of pace and intensity – and Summitt had pushed this year's team in preseason more than in past years – Manning laughed and offered to demonstrate. She got up, acted like she needed assistance being held up and limped away.

"Honestly, I felt better because I felt like we got a lot accomplished," Manning said. "I felt good about what we did. I liked it. We were like, ‘Dang, that was a rough practice.' Even me and Angie were talking about it in the locker room. We were like, ‘Hey it was a hard practice.' But we liked it. We got a lot out of it. Not that we don't on a normal basis but everyone was going hard all the time.

"We've had our practices where it was really hard but then when we started playing more games the practices kind of lightened up a little bit. She was concerned about everyone's injuries and getting people ready for the game."

Summitt abandoned that precaution after the loss at Auburn and decided a young team needed a tough taskmaster.

"I thought about that after our loss to Vanderbilt," Summitt said. "I think that I was trying to be patient and recognizing the fact that we are so young and not break anybody's spirit, but that philosophy, I just threw that out the window. That didn't work.

"I'm going to challenge this group because I know that they have a lot more to give than what they've been giving. Across the board for most everyone, there's more to give. Accountability has got to be in place now, so I probably should have done this after that Vanderbilt loss."

Wednesday's practice was different in that the Lady Vols did some full-court work, which they don't usually do on the day before a game. Both the starting five and the second team got in limited full-court repetitions against the male practice players. They also will run through the scouting report defense at full speed on the day of the game today.

The increase in the pace comes at the same time Summitt intends to shorten the rotation. In past games she has used every available player in the first half – 10 are cleared for Thursday; Vicki Baugh remains out for treatment of a knee sprain – but Summitt foresees cutting that number down, though she will see how the game unfolds.

Some of the combos have not worked, such as against Auburn when a one-point lead in the first half – the only one for the Lady Vols – turned into three consecutive turnovers after Stricklen went to the bench for a breather. Auburn never trailed again in the game.

"When I substitute now, I may only substitute one at a time because the substitutions at Auburn really were costly," Summitt said.

The first post player off the bench tonight will likely be Kelley Cain and in a good sign for Tennessee the 6'6 center had two solid days of practice this week and stayed afterwards Wednesday to work with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood on her shooting.

"I think Kelley will be the first post," Summitt said. "She has looked real good and she gives us a presence that is very important to our team. I think she's getting a lot more confident, and you've got to go let her play and see what happens."

Cain, who is coming back from major knee surgery, did something Monday in practice that she had not done all season – she leaped off both legs to grab a rebound.

"She favors the one leg and so what happens is sometimes when she jumps it looks like she's going off two feet but when you watch her, one foot is doing 85 percent of the work," Lockwood said. "It's good to see her when she feels confident and strong enough to go off of two feet. We love seeing that obviously."

With Manning in the starting lineup, Tennessee becomes considerably bigger – and especially so when Cain enters – but the Lady Vols lose Bass' ability to break pressure.

With that in mind Summitt will chat with Stricklen, who backed up against Auburn's pressure, since she will open the game Thursday at point guard.

"I think she's going to have to put people on their heels, come at them hard," Summitt said. "We're going to talk about it (Thursday) and I'm going to watch tape with her."

Summitt is not concerned about compromising Stricklen's offensive output because the offense has been tweaked in that she is to make one pass and then get into the flow.

"No, I'm not," Summitt said. "The thing about the way we're running going with five players with a little more size she gets us in an offense, but then she just moves. We can run things to her from the point or the wing. So we've got a package for her in that situation. We better be glad we have her, my goodness. She's been special. And Glory has really stepped it up. The thing about them is they both play hard. They're both competitive."

Both Glory Johnson, who has started every game this season, and Stricklen, who missed just one start because of illness, got an early endorsement from Auburn guard Whitney Boddie, who, when asked if the future was bright for the pair, instead noted their time had already arrived.

"Their future is right now," Boddie said. "I think Stricklen had 26 (points) and Glory Johnson, she was a beast in the post. We scouted them. We knew coming in that they were good players but seeing them live and in person just says a lot about them. Stricklen, she's like a linebacker, she's strong. And Johnson is the same way. I don't want to say future because they have a lot of potential right now."

The coaches added Manning to the freshmen mix in the lineup because her size means they can switch on perimeter screens in a man-to-man defense and not leave a short defender on a taller one. Manning also has shown she can defend against dribble penetration.

"It gives us flexibility defensively to do things," Lockwood said.

"I think she'll be fine," Summitt said. "She brings a lot of energy. As long as she can keep people in front of her (on defense), athletically she can do it, she tends to reach a little bit, that gives us a lot more size."

That doesn't mean Bass will languish on the bench.

"Bree will be the first perimeter (player in the rotation)," Summitt said.

"I think for us to be an efficient team Bree still has to get good minutes," Lockwood said. "She's got to contribute. She's got the pure point skills that no one else in uniform has right now. Maybe she can give us some energy and some life off the bench."

Manning may know she's starting but her approach will remain the same. She also knows that the lineup can change – she has started twice on the road already this season – and that freshmen usually play smaller roles at Tennessee but must be ready to start or sub this season.

"When you come to a program like this you're expected to take a little time, get worked in the system," Manning said. "Starting is a big deal, but it's not, too, because if you're getting quality minutes it doesn't matter if you're coming off the bench or if you're starting.

"I'm honored to being able to start this game for Tennessee. I think Coach wanted me as a spark off the bench so now maybe I can give a spark at the beginning of the game."

Redshirt senior Alex Fuller will be in the lineup tonight with a sophomore and three true freshmen. Fuller has two national titles on her resume already. This season she's playing for the youngsters.

"I just want so much for this team, especially these freshmen, and I want us to be successful this year," Fuller said. "We're playing well at times, but it's not consistent and that's what we need is consistency from everybody. It's a team thing. Nobody is perfect. It's going to take all 12 of us to get us to where we need to be, but since the core of our team is freshmen that's something we're going to have to work on."

Summitt certainly made it clear this week that work would be the operative word. She abandoned her cautious approach to a young team's psyche and lowered the boom in practice Monday about what her expectations were on every possession in practice and in games.

Fuller welcomed the return of vintage Summitt, and the senior didn't flinch at Monday's practice. She has seen and heard it all before and knew the freshmen needed firsthand exposure.

"We do have young players no matter how hard it is to say," Fuller said. "Pat knew that she had to have patience with this group coming in because they were so young. But I think we truly needed that Monday. I think they completely understood what she was doing. She was extremely intense, and they had never seen her like that. They had never seen Pat that intense.

"I really think that made them realize that's how things need to be all the time. That's how hard we need to go."

Summitt smiled and said she could certainly deliver that message for rest of the season.

"It's not that I haven't been on them, but I haven't been on them every second," Summitt said. "I think I'm going to have to be. We get distracted. Some of them will forget what we're doing on sets. Their attention span is real, real small. Whether it's what they need or not it's what they're going to get."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard/forward, No. 40 (14.1 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (11.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 15 (4.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (12.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg); and Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward/center, No. 2 (6.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner is expected to start: Shantell Black, 5'4 junior guard, No. 11 (8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.3 assists per game), hails from Lawrenceville, Ga., played for state champion Collins Hill High School and holds three assist records (single game, season, career), started 28 games last season, ranked first in the SEC last season with 5.03 assists per game, currently ranked second behind Auburn's Whitney Boddie at 8.1 apg, nickname is Telly, would like to have dinner with NBA point guard Steve Nash; Alliesha Easley, 5'8 redshirt sophomore guard, No. 32 (8.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg), hails from Cordova, Tenn., played for Briarcrest High School, missed last season after tearing an ACL in the first game, started 35 games as a freshman, made All-SEC Freshman Team, nickname is Big Leah, describes herself as a diva, lists Tennessee as toughest place she's played, would like to have dinner with Michelle Obama; Bianca Thomas, 5'10 junior guard, No. 45 (13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), hails from Henderson, Tenn., played for Chester County High School, was Miss Tennessee Basketball in Class 2A in 2005 and 2006, has scored at least 20 points on three occasions this season with a career-high 25 against Mississippi State, with 21 coming from behind the arc on the strength of seven 3-pointers, also lists Tennessee as toughest place she's played, hidden talent is singing; Kayla Holloway 6'4 redshirt freshman post, No. 21 (3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), hails from Dyersburg, Tenn., played at Dyersburg High School, scored 800 points, had 1,000 rebounds, received TSSAA academic award, member of National Honor Society, sat out last season with a knee injury; and Shawn Goff, 6'3 senior center, No. 35 (13.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), hails from Tallahassee, Fla., has 998 career points, had 15 points, 11 rebounds against N.C. State this season, had 20 points, 12 rebounds against Tennessee last season, was part of the 2005 Ole Miss Homecoming Court, lists both her worst habit and best talent as burping.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. Here is his assessment.

When Ole Miss has the ball: "They'll show you different looks," Lockwood said. "I call them double stacks. Double stacks at the elbow area (corners of the free throw line). Double stacks low. They do a lot of what we call Philly screening (ball screens) in the middle. They do some double Philly where they line two up there. They do some high-low action. Wing ball screens. It's really geared to high-low action, dribble drive action and ball screening action.

"Bianca Thomas can really shoot the three. She's got deep range. (Alliesha) Easley is another good solid wing player. She's got a good midrange game. She can make open threes. Shawn Goff, you let her get on a roll and she's capable of getting 15, 18, 20 points on you if you left her get in the post. She's their most skilled and physical post. Shantell Black (runs the point) and Kayla Melson comes in to back her up and both of those are quick, penetrating type guards and both, if you lay off of them, can hit the three.

"They do a lot off the dribble, and they're a streaky team from the arc. They hit one or two, two or three more can come. They miss two or three, they might hit one and miss two or three more. We really have to defend dribble drive, high-low and not let their three-point people shoot."

Defensively the Rebels will show an assortment of looks.

"Man and zone," Lockwood said. "They play a solid two-three zone, kind of stemming from the Carol Ross tenure there. They trap out of it some. They trap the wings in the corner. And they will play some straight up man as well. And they press. You'll see some 1-2-1-1 and some 2-2-1 press."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to work the ball from the inside-out.

"You can etch that in stone," Lockwood said. "We want to run some stuff and really see if Angie (Bjorklund) can get on track. We want to do some things to get her in the flow of things early. It's not like we're going to go exclusively through our posts. There's a difference between going to you and going through you. We want to go through them. It doesn't mean they're going to be the ones always getting the shots, but it does mean we want to establish it. Our guards I think are starting to understand if we can get touches (inside) that makes their job so much easier because now people feel the pressure of they have to guard both.

"But if I am trying to do so much on the perimeter I don't care who you are. You can be a great player, and it's hard to shake people when you're the focal point of what they're doing defensively. We want to run some, too. We want to get up and down and make our transition game effective."

Lockwood applauded the approach Summitt took to practice Monday. He also knows Thursday is the test that determines if the team absorbed the lessons yet.

"There are times when practices like that are solely needed and that was one of them," Lockwood said. "Me personally I love some high octane. To get them to understand the intensity required and the sense of urgency that every play, every situation demands, you have to get their attention and that's what Pat's sole objective was Monday was to get their attention as to how important every moment you're on that court is. There is nothing that is unimportant.

"The proof is in the pudding. The proof is in the results. Let's find out."

ON TAP: Nine other SEC teams are in action Thursday in the following matchups: Arkansas at Vanderbilt; Auburn at Georgia; Kentucky at Florida; LSU at South Carolina; and Savannah State at Mississippi State.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Ole Miss, 32-7. The Lady Vols record at home is 14-2. The Rebels last win in the series came on Feb. 4, 1996, a 78-72 Ole Miss victory in Oxford. Ole Miss last won in Knoxville, 69-65, on March 31, 1987. Tennessee has won 16 in a row in the series. … Tennessee is 12-1 in games played on January 29. The last win on this date was against Alabama, 89-54, in 2006. The lone loss on this date was to Georgia, 84-74, in 1986. … Ole Miss assistant coach Peggy Gillom-Granderson still holds the Tennessee school record for most points in a single game by an opponent. Gillom tallied 45 points on a record 21 field goals against the Lady Vols on Feb. 4, 1978, in Stokely Athletics Center. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 72.9 points per game while allowing 63.4. Ole Miss averages 69.6 points while allowing 60.0. The Lady Vols are shooting 41.1 percent from the field overall, 33.9 percent from behind the arc and 68.6 percent from the free throw line. The Rebels are shooting 39.8 percent overall, 28.9 percent behind the arc and 71.0 percent from the line. Tennessee averages 44.0 rebounds per game with a +6.8 margin. Ole Miss averages 43.0 boards with a +5.5 margin. The Lady Vols average 12.8 assists and 16.7 turnovers a game. The Rebels average 14.1 assists and 18.8 turnovers. Tennessee averages 8.8 steals and 4.8 blocks a game. Ole Miss averages 10.0 steals and 3.6 blocks per game.

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