Lady Vols to face South Carolina

As snow fell Friday afternoon on Knoxville, the Tennessee campus emptied quicker than usual for the weekend exodus, but Alicia Manning was on the floor of Thompson-Boling Arena an hour before practice was to start lofting shots with an assistant coach and student manager and working on dribble drives to the basket.

The sophomore forward from Woodstock, Ga., logged 27 minutes off the bench in Thursday's 85-56 win over Auburn and tallied four assists and five rebounds. That solid effort came after her most effective minutes of the season on the defensive end against LSU in the 55-43 win last Sunday. Alicia Manning also had seven boards in that game – a stat that is sure to get Pat Summitt's attention.

"I thought the LSU game was her best game," Summitt said. "She played within herself. She wasn't trying to do too much. Sometimes she gets overanxious, and that's when she's not as good. If she continues to play like she played, she will give us a lot of help and quality minutes.

"She is one of our most athletic guards. I just want her to be one of our most efficient."

Manning is not being asked to be a scorer for the Lady Vols, but she is capable of hitting some shots and at a greater percentage than they are falling for her right now. The 6'1 guard/forward is one of the best on the team at driving to the basket and she is working on becoming a better finisher.

"Offense is not really what Coach wants from me," Manning said. "That's a plus, but she usually looks to me for some offense, defense, energy, talking, rebounding, but I've been getting in the gym a lot more so hopefully my shots will start falling. I've got to finish.

"Coach a lot of times says I have one speed and it's like 110 percent. It's a matter of me slowing down, focusing on the rim and just making the shot."

Overall, Manning is shooting 35-85 (41.2 percent) and 2-12 (16.7 percent) from behind the arc. She is at her best when she is getting to the basket and she has shown herself to be unselfish with the ball on the way as she will kick out to a three-point shooter or dish off inside.

Manning has 39 assists – third best on the team behind Shekinna Stricklen (80) and Angie Bjorklund (50) – to 24 turnovers. She also has 20 steals – good for fourth best on the team behind Glory Johnson (29); Stricklen (23); and Bjorklund (21).

Manning's 76 rebounds are fifth best on the team and second among the guards. Johnson, a post player, leads the team with 173 boards while Stricklen leads the perimeter players with 125.

All of those players have been regular starters in Tennessee's 20 games this season, while Manning has started twice – and one was a mix-up at the scorer's table in San Antonio to face Texas Tech but she took the floor so Tennessee wouldn't get a technical foul – so Manning's numbers stand out because she has put them up in a relief role. Her state of readiness begins on the bench after the game tips off.

"What I do is during the game you've just got to make sure you keep focused on what's going on," Manning said. "It's actually an advantage because you can see from an outsider's perspective what we need to do, what we need to work on, so that when you do get in the game you know what to do in your position, what the defense is giving us on offense, what they're doing to us on defense.

"You definitely have to stay focused because there is so much going on."

Alyssia Brewer and Sydney Smallbone – both of who had some recent starts – Manning, Kamiko Williams and Briana Bass – make up the bench support this season, though everyone but Williams has had at least two starts. Williams has had a steep learning curve and has had to adjust to the daily demands at Tennessee in practice, meetings and film sessions, but she has been praised recently by the coaches for making much bigger strides of late.

Fellow freshman guard/forward Taber Spani had been a regular starter until a painful case of turf toe forced her to the sidelines for some rest, and her minutes have been sporadic, depending on her daily health. That has sent Manning, Smallbone and Williams to the scorer's table more often, and Manning has the size to play inside or out, such as Spani did.

"I am glad that Coach is giving me the opportunity," Manning said. "It's kind of hard to go in and make something happen in two or three minutes and they pull you and you didn't really get in the flow of things. When Coach gives me the opportunity to get out there, get in the flow of things and get the feel of the game, it's a lot easier."

Manning's ability to get on the boards and hold onto the ball – she didn't have any turnovers in her 27 minutes of play Thursday – should give her more of those opportunities.

The Lady Vols spent about two hours Friday working on their offensive efficiency in the half-court and their transition game, along with post and guard shooting, free throws and the beginning of preparations for South Carolina.

Summitt reviewed the game film of Auburn and came away with the same reaction she had immediately afterwards – overall pleased with her team's effort.

"I thought we had really good energy and did a lot of good things," Summitt said.

Two areas do need to be addressed – fouling three-point shooters and not picking up open ones to start the game.

"I think part of it you can contribute it to we're aggressive when we're closing out long," Summitt said of the three fouls against three-point shooters that have occurred in the last two games. "That's something we can get better at (not doing)."

As far as surrendering three-point shots so early in the game – South Carolina did it when the Gamecocks played at Knoxville so that will really be a point of emphasis Sunday – Summitt said it will be outlined in film and adjustments made in defensive matchups. Auburn got Alli Smalley and Blanche Alverson loose against the 2-3 zone – good shooters are the best way to attack it – and Tennessee quickly went to its man defense.

After surrendering three 3-pointers in the first four minutes, Tennessee didn't allow another one for 12 minutes in the first half, and Auburn hit just one from long range in the second half.

"Just keep addressing it and looking at," Summitt said.

The Lady Vols plan to travel Saturday to South Carolina by charter flight to practice at Colonial Life Arena the day before the game. The rematch with the Gamecocks is set for 2 p.m. Eastern (SEC Network) on Sunday. Tennessee won the first game, 79-62, on Jan. 7 on a night when an ice/snowstorm kept thousands away from the arena.

"It's going to be a challenging road game for us," Summitt said after practice ended Friday. "We know that."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories