bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/17/08

bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's basketball head coach Darin Spence throughout the 2008/2009 season as the Aggies take aim at a conference championship. This week we spoke with Coach Spence about their season opening games against UC-Irvine and Cal-Poly, this week's games against UTEP and Kent State and what improvements he's looking for from his young team.

bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the first two games.
Darin Spence: We're far from where we need to be. Far from where I thought we would even be. At the same time we just have a disconnect between inside outside and I guess that's to be expected with as many new faces as we're trying to throw in there. And our so called experienced players are sophomores now. When I look out on the floor I see two freshmen and two sophomores of our five players at one time. At one aspect I'm kind of disappointed where we're at right now but at the same time I understand our learning curve and where we're at and where we need to go to. I think our guards are turning out to be the ones who we have to play through. I think we've got a good group of perimeter people that can play different spots and can make baskets and can drive it so we've got to tweak some things around to kind of let them go a little bit. At the same time I've just been disappointed in the play of our post players. Just for the lack of aggression and wanting the ball. They're skilled and they're good players but they're just not working hard enough to be good Division I players right now. So we have that imbalance and we're just disconnected right now.

bc.net: Both games have kind of been a tale of two halves defensively. Both first halves saw your opponents shoot over 50% from the field and both second halves you held the opponents to 30% shooting or less.
DS: When you really step back and look at it, it's not so much our defense, it's our offense. I've said this for 25 years now, if you look at how teams score and in the first half of both games we were so bad offensively. Our positioning was bad, we threw up bad shots, we weren't balanced and so we'd turn the ball over and there they go running and get layups so it makes it look like your defense isn't very good but it's really in all reality it's your offense. They're scoring on your offense. I know that sounds funny to people but it's just like football, if I throw an interception and they run it back, they scored on my offense, they didn't score on my defense. It's the same thing with us and in the second half we were a little bit better in both games. I think looking at the defensive side of it we've been pretty solid. In the two exhibition games and even the two that we've played we've just got to have better play from the offensive standpoint. Our defense is going to get better each day because we have the type of kids that'll defend. We just have to look to practice and carry that over to the game.

bc.net: Offensively the first game you've got to be pretty pleased, I think that was one of the more efficient opening season games you've had in the time you've been coaching here.
DS: Yeah and it shows what we're capable of. I thought we got some good shots, obviously when you make them it makes it better. It just shows we have people that can make shots. We have people that can make plays, the only thing with that is we still didn't get enough from our inside game. So you go back and think, what's important in basketball as Digger Phelps always says, points in the paint. And that can be done by a couple different ways. Your guards can drive it and get in the lane and score or your bigs can do it. Right now our bigs aren't doing anything so we're going to have to tweak some things around. Last spring we worked on a little different look so tomorrow in practice we're going to go to that and we're going to get the post out of the way because they're not doing anything to catch it and we can't play through them right now. So we're going to get them out of the way and just open up the lane and do a little more driving and cutting. We're going to turn those guards loose, especially Madison and Day Day [Danisha Corbett] and let them try to score 15 points each a game. And the rest of them, if we get Tyshae at eight points and Kaitlyn can chip in six or seven and Tabytha get 10, we'll be okay. But we've been trying to force things like we like to play and go through the post but they're just not ready for that. We'll adjust and we'll keep getting better.

bc.net: Sunday's game you made five fewer baskets in each half and if you're looking at only two points for each one that's pretty much the difference in the score. Was it just a bad shooting night?
DS: Yeah, we missed shots but a lot of it too was shot selection. You look at Day Day, she scores 21 in the first game so she's coming out in the second game and just launching shots without any great purpose. Somebody like Madison who should be shooting 15 plus times a game is not. So she's got to turn into being a lot more selfish. She's our best player, she's our best shooter, she needs to be taking better shots. Our guards need to be realizing to drive and kick it to open people. We'll work on that and we'll get a lot better. But you know, we need to make five threes a game and with this group it could go up. Maybe we're going to turn into one of those kind of teams, drive it and shoot it. We did that my first year here because we had no size. Now we have size but they don't want to be involved so we'll skin the cat another way. I really think this team can be a good scoring team, we've shown signs of it. It's just a matter of learning.

I could just see it in our kids, we came back and beat Irvine, I could just see it coming into practice the next day and into the game, I just knew we were in for that kind of a thumping. Ca Poly is a good team, they have experienced players. Two of those kids we recruited and we passed on them and then they come back and beat us, [Lisa] McBride and [Megan] Harrison and they both wanted to come here. But this can be a good team but I saw the letdown coming, with that much youth it's going to be a roller coaster ride. We're going to win some games we probably shouldn't and we're probably going to lose some that we shouldn't. Until this group gets it all figured out and gets on the same page we'll take some lumps along the way. I never thought going into this year with the group that we have that we'd win 23 games. I think 16 or 17 would be good to start with as far as a win goal

bc.net: Your rebounding, especially the first game was a bit of an issue, at one point the team was being out rebounded 31-16. It didn't show itself as much in the first half against Cal Poly because it seemed like they were making a lot more so the team didn't have any rebounding opportunities but the second chance opportunities Cal Poly got in the second half really prevented you from going on any kind of a run.
DS: Right, and that's just having a tenacity and having a nose for the ball. Our guards have to be a lot more involved rebounding. Day Day and Tyshae have to do a much better job rebounding especially long rebounds that they [Cal Poly] got a lot of last night. Our post players have got to do a better job. They've got to be tougher and meaner. I know it sounds like I'm blaming the big kids and I am. They have to step their game up. Ashley Scroggins is a kid that can play this game and be a good rebounder. Tabytha Wampler, the same thing. They have to be a lot more active and have that junkyard dog mentality. Just go get every ball. Areyal has not shown an activity level right now to where she can function at this level and that's concerning because she was brought here to be a force for us. She hasn't crossed over the commitment line with both feet yet do to everything we need her to do. It's a long year and she can get there but she's got to be a lot better on the rebounding as does Niki Holt. Being our biggest kid she just gets pushed underneath and I think it's just an area that we have to improve in and we will.

bc.net: One of the players that has really stood out has been Kaitlyn Soto. She's very energetic to say the least.
DS: She is and I knew that coming in that she would provide a lot of excitement and there'll be some good with the bad. She's another freshman that plays at a pretty high pace and wants to force the action which is a lot of the reason why offensively we're going to try to tweak some things and take advantage of her being able to get in that lane and draw some people to her. She can make free throws, she defends pretty solidly on the ball. She'll learn and get better each day and it's good to have her. It takes a lot of pressure off Madi where Madi can just catch and shoot and both of them together are pretty good as well. So Kaitlyn's going to be a big part of this season.

bc.net: Another thing your team is doing well the first two games is getting to the free throw line, 53 free throws shot in the first two games compared to 38 last year in the first two games.
DS: Yeah. I think too as we get out and attack the basket more we'll get free throws. We'll get a lot more. We want to shoot more, we need to shoot more. I told Areyal going into the game she needed to get fouled. And that's everybody, not just throw shots up to get a shot up, be a lot more efficient and productive with it and get fouled and you can make free throws. That's the best place to shoot from. Nobody's guarding you, you're right in front of the basket and that's an area, we want to continue to shoot more than our opponents. Obviously we want to make more as well.

bc.net: One of the stats that isn't kept officially but I know you keep it is deflections. How is the team doing in respect to where you'd like them to be.
DS: We're doing okay. I couldn't even tell you a number right now but if we try to get in the 20s, 25 or more in a game, I think our positioning defensively is pretty good. We probably don't have as many now as we might down the road because we've played two teams that like to put their head down and drive it a little bit so you're not going to get a lot of deflections because there aren't as many passes. But I think we're okay. It's something that's in everybody's mind. We talk about that a lot, play to deflect and steal second. Deflect the ball first, steal second, it's something we keep reemphasizing and keep working on. I think if you have a deflection as your goal it keeps your feet in the right spot, it keeps your body in position, you don't get out of position and give up easy shots. That's an area that we are doing pretty well in.

bc.net: Thursday night you take on UTEP down in El Paso. Going into the season they were receiving votes, they've had a couple of tough losses, one to a very good Kansas State team and then a one point overtime loss to UC-Irvine, a team you beat on Friday night. Obviously with the way the two games ended up last year, this is a big game for you guys to kind of get back at them.
DS: Yeah and I told our team that after the game last night. I'm tired of getting beat by them. We could have had both those games last year and they had a phenomenal season a year ago and we could have won both those games, especially the one here.

They have some younger kids they're trying to play kinda like us. They lost a good senior group as well. The Kansas State loss doesn't surprise me at all. K-State was the regular seaosn BIg XII champion last year, they've got some good players. A lot of their kids I saw growing up in Kansas when I was coaching so they've got a really good team. Then Irvine, they went down there [to El Paso] and did what Cal Poly did here, coming off a loss, they have older players and so they just raised their level and played a little bit better and that's where the young teams like us and UTEP now have to figure out how to do that. Now both teams are coming off a loss, does my team sit here and say, "We beat Irvine pretty bad and they lost to them." If they take that mindset it'll be just like the Cal Poly game and we'll get kicked down there. But if we go in hungry and learning and show up in practice tomorrow [Tuesday] to fix some things and just be a little bit more focused and we'll have a chance to win the game.

Jareica Hughes is a really good guard and we're going to throw Tyshae on her from the time she gets off the bus. Tyshae has to get back to where that's her main focus. She's been thinking too much scoring. You read newspapers and she's been talking about trying to score more points and playing oversees and so we've got to refocus her mind which we did after the game last night. She's got to get back to doing what she does best and so we'll put her on Hughes and then we'll just kinda figure out what we need to do when as the game goes on.

bc.net: On Sunday you travel to Kent State. Anna Kowalski had 19 points in their debut and she had 19 points against you last season when you played them down here.
DS: Yeah, she's a good solid player, 6'4" big and can do some things. She was bigger than what we had last year. Niki [Holt] was hurt and didn't play and they have some depth this year and I think they put up 95 in their first game. I don't know how good Youngstown State is but 95 is 95 and we can't score 95 in a week! It's going to be a challenge. We beat them pretty good here last year. We just killed them on the offensive rebounding but we don't have that same type of team. Our bigs just aren't relentless as going and getting rebounds right now. So we're going to have to be ready to go. Win or lose against UTEP, we're going to leave really early in the morning. It's going to be a long trip to fly to Cleveland and then bus to Kent. An afternoon game on Sunday. It's going to be a great challenge for us. It's going to be a game that we have a chance to win if we do what we're supposed to do. I think in the big picture of it it's another chance to go play and learn. The team we have, any game we can play is going to help us out down the road when we get into league play.

bc.net: What improvements are you looking for from your team this week, obviously rebounding is one of them.
DS: Yeah, we've got to rebound better. We've got to get some kids playing harder. We got to get it meaning more to them and that's 1 through 15 and being better practice players still. We've got to get them to mature quickly. Our offensive execution has to be better. We have to get our players to understand better who needs the ball and when they need it. I think every area we've got to get better in. We've just got to keep taking steps forward and keep working hard.