Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 03/03/08 will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's basketball head coach Darin Spence throughout the 2007/2008 season as the Aggies aim for the WAC Championship and Beyond. In this week's interview Coach Spence talks about last week's games against Nevada and Fresno State, their upcoming games against Fresno State and Hawai'i and talks about the mental edge the Aggies will have heading into the WAC tournament. Can you talk about the Nevada game on Thursday night?
Darin Spence: Tough game. Any time you play Nevada you've got to be ready to battle. They're so aggressive defensively, they come at you, they don't stop, especially for ball handlers, they do a great job of trying to disrupt your timing. It really takes a lot out of you to handle the basketball against Nevada. They're real pressure oriented, and they're very athletic and quick. And if they get away with the grabbing and holding stuff it's even tougher. We knew going in it was going to be a rough night. Our first half was kind of spotty as far as how efficient we were in our play. Tyshae and Annikia had some foul trouble early so that affected us. Second half we were as good as we've been all year and we just really took it to them. It was a great win. In the first game against Nevada, you had 24 turnovers, in this game you only had 12. What was the difference in the game?
DS: I think we were a lot more comfortable. At Nevada we had some silly turnovers, plus we tried to play a bigger lineup at Nevada and that caught up to us. With the change of having Irma in the lineup that gives us that other ball handler that helps calm everybody down. It keeps the ball in the hands of somebody that's more of a guard player than somebody who's trying to turn into a guard. That's something that's been a challenge for us. Our ball skills throughout our roster still not as good as far as handling the ball as what we need, it's getting better but it's not as what we need. That'll get better through our recruiting. Just having that extra guard in there took a lot of pressure of Madison and Monique. When we played bigger, it just put too much pressure on our point guards. Having that extra ball handler and the other scorer helped us in that one. I think we were just a little more focused on taking care of the ball as well. Can you talk about Irma's re-emergence and basically adding another starter this late in the year?
DS: She's stayed with it. She's gone up and down as far as her consistency all year long and just trying to fit in and get herself back into the swing of things. Part of it was she didn't realize that we were a much better team that she was coming back to so that took it's toll on her a while. We've just struggled with her all year long as far as finding that role or that place that she fits in. The coaches when we were talking we said she's started the whole year for us, let's try this, let's throw her back in there. We're not getting as much out of Niki [Holt] as we did when we first started playing her, we're getting ready to play some quicker more athletic teams, I think it was just that last button we had to push going into the end of the year and she's really responded well and not just scoring and handling the ball but her defense has gotten a little better as well. Towards the end of the game there were a couple times your defense made stops and your girls pushed it up the court and it looked like the Nevada players kind of quit on the play. Can you talk about that and can you talk about the mentality that your team has enabled them to play their best basketball at the end of the season and not have that letdown?
DS: I do think there was a point where Nevada said "It's over, let's pack it in and let's get ready for our game at La. Tech on Saturday." I saw that, I saw their substitution pattern with about six minutes to go. That was definitely that was obvious to a lot of people.

Our team, the way we play is different than a lot of other teams. You look around the country and teams all start the year, they're pressing, they're running, they're playing fast, they're loose but as the season goes on especially at the end of the year they're worn down, they're tired, they don't press as much, they don't run out as much. Where we're just the opposite, we play a lot slower at the beginning of the season because we're so position oriented and I want our kids to really understand where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there, offense and defense. So now as you get into the latter part of the year, and we're in pretty good shape, I think our conditioning has been solid this year and we've been pretty tough most of the time, but now we talk about let's get good defensive stops, let's rebound it and let's run for layups. That's what we talk a lot about. Last year when we got to the tournament that's what happened, other teams were getting a little bit tired and we were getting easier shots. And this team has the ability, we have all year, to create and get easier baskets than what we've had in the last four years. I think just as that philosophy is kicking in and our sense of urgency and our enthusiasm is picking up because it is the end of the season and we know we have a lot to play for. You put all that together and we're just trying to take it to a whole other level right now.

It's also that early in the year I really nitpick on kids and point a lot of things out and correct and correct and critique whether it be positive or negative, we don't let anything slide. But now towards the latter part of the year is when I tell the kids this is your time, you go play. You've been through all the games all the practices and now I just kind of take a step back and let the kids play. It's worked over my career and is probably something I'll keep doing until I stop coaching. Can you talk about the first half of the Fresno State game, they hit a couple early threes which seemed to open up their inside game a little bit.
DS: Yeah, they're a very difficult team to prepare for. They're very athletic and quick. They're a good team. I really think having been on the floor with them, they're one of the top teams in this league. It's a different style than what we've seen. It also didn't help that Anikia got in some foul trouble and Tyshae got in some foul problems so that kind of hurt our rotations as well. Because it was a new style and because of what we're used to doing defensively with only having one day to prepare for them, it was hard to get it in our kids minds that your help on people driving at you, you don't go off your man as far as you would some other team. We knew going in and we talked to them, they're going to shoot 30 plus three point shots, they're not going to change so you've got to hold to your assignments. With only one day to prepare, it's really tough to do. it's tough to break an old habit and put in a new scheme just in one day. Fresno State had a whole week just to prepare for us. We knew we had a tough game Thursday that took a lot out of us. I though the first half we got punched a couple times and we just didn't respond very well from it and we had to regroup at the halftime. What did you talk with the team about at halftime down 10?
DS: We always talk about who's going to be the tougher team, we talked about offensively moving the ball and we needed to play inside out more. I thought in the first half we settled on some deep shots as well and some early quick shots. When you're 5 on 5 in a half court, that's not what we do well, you can't get caught up into the way the other team plays, we gotta stay to what we do. The other thing was be tougher and hold to your defensive assignments a little bit better, that was kind of the message. In the second half you were kind of treading water for the first couple minutes and then turned it on and battled back to tie the game and had a couple pretty good looks to win the game at the end of regulation.

DS: Yeah, I was standing there as the first part of that half went and we were kind of trading baskets and something needed to change which is why we got out of our man-to-man, we went to some zone. I just wanted to see what they would do and get a look at their zone offense and kind of see how it would look and see if it would stop their penetration. And it did, I think that took it's toll on them and it allowed us to know where the shooters were. The kids did a really good job of executing, we got them to miss some shots, they rebounded it better. That's the other thing in the first half, they got 12 offensive rebounding because we just stood there and watched them grab balls. But second half we rebounded it much better. I think that change on the defensive end gave us a little energy and got the kids a little more excited and we were able to get out and get some shots and we were fortunate to have the ball go in. At the end of the game we had some good looks, just like our loss at Boise State, we had good looks the ball just didn't go in. I think all in all, we made some mistakes through the regulation part of the game that if we could have just corrected we could have come out with a win. In overtime, the heartbreaker, a shot that 8 out of 10 times doesn't even draw iron, what did you talk about with your team after that shot went in?
DS: Well, before the last shot, first of all we're up two and shooting free throws, you just hope your player steps up and hits one of those. It was the same situation we had when we got beat by UTEP here way back when, same situation miss free throw they had a chance to hit a shot. We had two timeouts, they called one, we called one and then there was the delay of them trying to figure out the clock. So we had two timeouts and that delay to talk about what we wanted to do. And we talked to them about "do not let anybody get back behind you because that's enough time for them to throw it over your head and in rhythm shoot the ball." In our pre-game shoot around we shot half court shots too. We do it for that reason and just to have a little fun. But most good teams do things like that. So they looped around, had kids cut around, for some reason Tyshae stepped up and let the girl get behind her. I still don't think you can get that shot off, for what they did, in a second. But that's neither here nor there now, but we talked extensively about do not let anybody get back behind you. Just like defensive backs late game, you don't let the receiver get behind you. So again we had some mistakes that we could have corrected and the outcome would have been different. Can you talk about the game that Tyshae Walton had a career high 24 points, all season you've talked about her being your defensive stopper but she exploded on the offensive end. Is that the kind of game you've known that she could have but just hadn't put together yet?
DS: I think the biggest thing is she just rose to the occasion. You want players to have the mental toughness to go ahead and step up when needed and make plays. They made the decision, their defensive gameplan was to not guard her as much. We do the same thing. You always find somebody on the other team that you can help off of more. So what Tyshae did a good job of was getting right in rhythm and getting herself set and she made shots. They rolled the dice and hoped that she wouldn't make those shots or wouldn't continue to make them and she did. That shows that she has grown so much and she is ready to step up and make those shots. The other side of it is, I told our guards that they passed up, especially second half, we passed up way too many shots. Monique did, Hannah did, Madi did and Irma did and so our guards have to be in position and prepared to catch and shoot. Otherwise everybody just sandwiches Anikia and Sherell and makes it tough on those two. When we have good balance, we're a lot harder to guard and I thought our guards passed up a lot of shots or held the ball and didn't reverse it as much. But when Tyshae was getting the ball we did a good job of going inside out, we reversed it and she was right in rhythm and did a great job of knocking shots down.

Now she's had a very good year, she's our defensive stopper, her offensive game has really grown. She's a high school post player that's done a lot to improve her ball skills and become a better player to help us. She's been in our starting lineup every game and has just grown and done so much for us. The coaches in our league better recognize her and vote her onto the All-Defensive team this year, I think that would be a great ending to her season. I was hoping to be able to ask this question after a win over Fresno but with the way the game played out I think it's still a valid question. Having beaten all of the league teams except Fresno by double-digits in the Pan Am and with the tournament being played in the Pan Am again this year, what mental edge does that give your team knowing that you can play with every single team that you might face in the tournament.
DS: You know, that's something that we talked about in the beginning of the conference season. You want to make your home court tough so that those other teams know coming in, "uh oh, they beat us by this much and they're at home, the crowd's going to get better". That was very important and that was up front in our conversation as we prepared for the year.

Even Fresno, they know we didn't play our best for the entire game, so they know also it's not going to be real easy, 60 foot shot to win it. It's a good psychological edge, especially for a program that hasn't been comfortable playing at home the last few years. This year we've really grown up and had some good play and our two home losses are in overtime which is kind of an interesting thing as well. It gives our kids a lot of confidence getting ready to start the tournament. They know what we did last year and this is getting to the point, no matter what happens the next two games, we've been gearing up for the tournament anyway. So, we've known all along there's not going to be an at-large bit, you gotta win the tournament to get into the NCAA tournament, that's where our mindset is right now. We'll be ready to go when that time comes.

A lot of coaches and people on these big time sports shows talk about people playing well heading into the tournament, I've seen teams laying bad heading into a tournament catch fire in a tournament and win it. We're proof. We've struggled the last two years and got in the tournament and hit a whole other level. That's something we know we can do, a lot of teams don't know they can do that, they talk about it, but we're living proof, we've done it. So that gives us a lot more confidence as well. At the same time you can't sit back and say "oh we'll be ready to go come tournament time." Tournament is a whole other animal. Good teams play not to lose and that affects them in a negative way and teams at the bottom end of it have nothing to lose so they let loose and they go. And you sure don't want to be on the losing end to one of those teams, bcause that's what we've been the last couple of years. I think right now going in our mental edge is strong and we'll be ready to go. You've got to turn right around and play them again at their place and with the way you played against them and them escaping with a win that has to give your team a lot of confidence and with a win and you secure at least a 3-seed in the tournament.
DS: It's something that we have talked about, it's their senior night so let's go wreck their senior night. You just never know. It's one of those games, and I don't see it happening to us, but that's one of those losses that some teams can never bounce back from, the way you lose that. Our kids were talking about it after the game, we had one of our Fast Break Club socials and that's all they were sitting there talking about. I'm anxious to see how we get in the gym and come practice today. Now we have a few more days to prepare for what they do. Whereas I said earlier, we only had one day to watch tape and to look at them. So now, we've been on the court with them, we know their style is a little different. We know what didn't work and what did work. And of course they're at home. I thought they played really well and if you talk to their coaches they'll probably say that was one of their best games they've played all year. That just shows you how we get everybody's best shot. Will they bring that same effort? Probably because they're a pretty good team. We've got to play our best. The way I look at it is I think we need to win one of the next two to stay in that three spot. I think 2-seed or 3-seed we're going to play Hawai'i or Utah State anyways. To me it really doesn't matter. Both bring different challenges. You've got to win it [WAC tournament] anyways. On the mental side, not having this loss affect your team mentally, do you think having had that happen to your team a couple times this season made your team mentally stronger?
DS: I think so. This group's been pretty resilient all year. The interesting thing is our younger kids see that and they're going to be the ones that grow from it probably more than the older kids. Older people, we just get mad about stuff and older players think they don't have any more to learn but it's the younger that can benefit from it towards the end of this year and into next year. It's really interesting that we have seven losses and four of them are in overtime. Obviously we've been competitive and pretty consistent in what we've done all year. In years past we would have got blown out by a couple of the teams that beat us and we wouldn't have fought back in it. I was talking with Sherell after the game about how each of our overtime games we've gotten closer. We've got closer to getting the win and the next time that we get in that situation you would really hope that those past lessons and past experiences really come to the table. Who knows, it could be an overtime game in the WAC championship game. You would hope we'd be ready because we've been through it a few times. Saturday you play at Hawaii can you talk about the difficulty of turning right after the Fresno game and playing Hawaii and how much of an impact does the time difference make?
DS: I don't think it's that big an issue because most of the kids aren't sleeping at 10:00 anyways. Most of them are up doing homework, they're goofing around, they're watching t.v., they're doing something. I know when I was in college I was normally back in the gym shooting at 10:00. They're doing something, not many of them are in bed. We don't have those total bookwormish type of kids on this team that that's all they do, we've got some interesting characters. They're either up at movies or they're doing something. So I never see that as a big issue the time difference playing. Hawai'i bring a whole different challenge than what we'll see at Fresno, totally different style of play, at the other end of the spectrum. They're big, they push you around, so it's a whole different type of opponent. We're going to have to switch gears pretty quick and get ready for that one. Again we just go in there and whatever happens happens because you've gotta get on that 11:00 red-eye flight and get back here because we gotta get ready for the tournament. And you've gotta give your kids a couple of days to rest up and bounce back and get ready.