Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/25/08 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 last week's games against UTEP and Kent State, Madison Spence's ridiculous game against the Golden Flashes, this week's Thanksgiving Classic and fan support. Your thoughts on the UTEP game.
Darin Spence: I was really encouraged about how we played, how we bounced back from the Cal Poly game. How we competed for longer periods, longer stretches during the game and with a team that has youth and inexperience you just don't know if they're going to hang their heads and get beat even worse the next game, especially on the road. I was really pleased with how we fought the entire game and gave ourselves a chance to win. The team rebounded much better against UTEP. Was that something you guys worked on a lot more in practice?
DS: Yeah. It's something that we always work on and I just think that our players took a big step in their concentration level and defensively being in better position and actually making a conscious effort to go box their man out, put their body on somebody and then go get the ball. I thought we were a lot more active and a lot more aware of going and getting the balls. We took a big step in that area. The team had 11 assists on the 18 baskets, that's a pretty good ratio, something I'm sure you're pleased with.
DS: It is, especially when you take a look at, we had two days of practice before and we revamped our offense. We started working on something different, something we had worked on the spring before and so we had two days to work on it and go down to a rival game, in kind of a hostile area, our first road game. I thought we did a pretty decent job of it, we moved the ball better, we passed the ball, then we made a couple baskets and that obviously helps getting assists. But I thought we did a much better job of moving the ball and getting it to the people that needed it in their hands.

After the Cal Poly game we did a lot of actual role defining. A lot more and we hadn't done so much up to that point. We'd hit that point where we were four games in counting the two exhibition games, I normally think it takes eight or ten games to get a feel for what your team can do and to be able to define those roles. We did that and I thought the kids really tried to step into those roles and play from within those roles during the game. It just shows how this team listens and tries to apply and how they learn and I'm pleased with what we're doing and where we can go. This past weekend you went on your first real road trip up to Kent State. You build an early eight point lead but then the middle 20 minutes of the game the momentum swung to KSU and the team was down by 12 but the kids fought hard, battled back, got back in the game and gave themselves a chance to win at the end.
DS: We jumped out and really got after them in the early stages of the game. We were doing some good things on both sides of the ball. We rebounded better on their missed shots defensively, we weren't quite as good as what we're going to be down the road. Madi hit some shots and we always talk about if somebody gets going keep going back to that person. She stepped up big time and hit some shots and drove and got in the lane and got fouled and really played well. It was about six minutes left in that first half and we got some foul trouble so we had some people who didn't play minutes and we were trying to shuffle different people in here and there and Kent State shot a lot of free throws and so it kind of just broke our rhythm and gave them some free points and kind of put us on our heels a little bit and that's kind of how we started the second half off. We got down double digits and in years past we've had teams that just kinda gave into it but this team really fought and battled back and we had a good balance of getting our posts involved, getting Areyal involved especially and she did a good job of scoring for us. And Day Day [Danisha Corbett] came out in the second half and took much better shots. I got on her at halftime about not settling for deep jumpers and so she did a much much better job. She was a victim of three really bad offensive foul calls and so she fouled out. She did a really good job. Madi had a complete game for the entire game and we just hung in there and kept fighting. We put Kelsie Rozendaal in, a freshman who hasn't play but one or two minutes here and there. At 5'11", a thick, strong kid, she's really a smart basketball player, good skills. She made a little drive and left-hand layup to put us up by one. She was a big part of our defensive scheme and rebounding as we made that run. I think Kelsie really stepped in and gave us a boost and showed that she can help us as well.

In a tough environment, long road trip and again for the second road game in a row we had the ball in our hands with a chance to win the game. I'm disappointed that we didn't get the win but I'm more encouraged than I am disappointed because I see some things that are coming together. They're playing harder in longer stretches. I'm really encouraged, I think if we keep working we've got a chance to be okay. Madison had an outstanding game, 30 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals, just two turnovers, 8-15 shooting, 5-8 from three, 9-11 from the free throw line.
DS: Yeah and they had a very good defender on her towards the end of the first half. They switched people on her and put an athletic player on her. She found ways to get fouled, get to the free throw line. And that's doing it without being in great game shape still. She really stepped up and applied herself and just played. I was really proud of her and thought that in a time when we needed somebody to step up like that, she really answered the call. As a coaching staff and as a team we're proud of that effort. It would have been great, as she said in postgame, if it had been in a win, but did all she could that night to give us a chance. Areyal LeDeatte didn't play against UTEP but she comes back and scores 18 points and grabs six rebounds in 20 minutes of play.
DS: Yeah, unfortunately sometimes young people have to learn a lesson along the way. She hadn't been working as hard as what she needed to and was taking things for granted which you can never do in this game or in life. So we got on her and challenged her and she's no different than anybody else, if you're not doing what you need to do then you're not going to play, it's that simple. That's why it's a team game, it's not an individual sport. So she accepted it and worked a little harder and really answered the call in the Kent State game. We really needed that balance.

I told her after the UTEP game had she been in there to give us just six points, we win the game. She makes free throws, she can get fouled. She's got a nice shot. She's always been a big part of our recruiting and a big part of what we thought we were going to do this year.

It's early in the year and you don't win any championships in November. Like I said, unfortunately kids need to learn some lessons along the way, let's just hope that now she's ready to be the player we need her to be. The UTEP game and Kent State games were two really opposite types of games. The UTEP game was a slow, grind it out type of game and the Kent State game was more up tempo, a lot more offense. You must be pleased that your team can play both styles.
DS: No question. I think the biggest reason why that UTEP game was like that they're coming off losses, we're coming off a loss, both teams are fragile. So I think both teams were not playing to win necessarily, they were playing not to lose and that kind of bogged us down at times.

The Kent State game, Kent State is a good team and I thought Cal Poly was a good team. Kent State has got a nice nice team. They're athletic, they shoot it well. They have some experience, they have good size. I don't think we're going to see a team, even in the WAC, much better than them. They do a good job and so they have confidence and they're running around and it just showed that we can play with that same freedom and confidence to go out and beat a good team.

Again to go into Kent State in that environment, they had a good crowd and they really support it well, and for us not to hang our heads and worry about losing three in a row and went out and just got after it and worked hard to give themselves a chance to win. That's something that's really encouraging for me. You talk about the mentality of the team, how important is it to get these players who are from successful programs in high school. How much does that help with the mentality of the team, they expect to win.
DS: It's important to always get people out of successful areas. More times than not if they have their life in order, as in any profession, you put those people all together, they can find a way to be successful all together. They can draw off each other's strengths. I think that's the biggest part of it, most people in our program now that come from better teams, better programs who are use to winning so they have that in common. Whereas in the past we maybe had some that were from not a great team that don't really know what it's like, but they score 20 points a game so you're battling that selfish side of it as well. It's so important to get kids out of programs that have been successful and have won and they know what sacrifices are and that they are important. That's kind of where we are, we're young and we're true freshmen. We don't have redshirt freshmen they're true young kids. And it's not an excuse, I keep saying we're inexperienced and young, we lost 76% of our scoring and just our minutes from a year ago. This team has a chance to be a good team because of their past experiences and they're putting it all together, they just need to get out and play. I'm really encouraged and I think as we keep growing together we'll have a chance to do some things down the road. This week you have a pair of home games against Loyola-Chicago and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Loyola Chicago lost to Bradley in a close game the beat Chicago State, also on the road. They've got three players who average double figures in scoring.
DS: They beat Robert Morris last night so they're 2-1, they haven't taken a real road trip yet. We have to make sure we make this a tough place. That's where crowds come into place. If you're an Aggie fan, you're an Aggie fan not just when they win. That's too easy. Everybody needs the help when they're down a little bit, especially when they're young kids. That's where this community can really help us this weekend. We thought adding a Thanksgiving Classic would give people in the area something to do too but if nobody comes it's just going to be a dull event and pretty soon the word will get out and we won't be able to have it because no teams want to come. I think our fans can really help us create some energy and help us welcome Loyola, that's our first game, to the Pan Am Center as their first real road game. Like what we just took to Kent State.

We need to get out and play and be solid in what we do. Loyola's got some confidence now, they're 2-1, they have some good size. They're going to be a lot like Kent State or a Cal Poly team but I think it's a game that if we just do what we do and keep improving we have a chance to win the game. Then on Saturday you take on Texas A&M Corpus Christi, they're 1-3 but they've played two really really good teams in #17 Vanderbilt and #11 Texas. They've got a pair of players, Myeisha Myles who scored 19 points in 19 minutes against Texas Southern and Jade Davis, who's taking the bulk of their shots, she's averaging about 16 shots per game.
DS: Where Loyola is kind of a pattern type team, A&M;-CC is more athletic, they're quicker, faster. Two different teams, two different styles we're going to play in two days. They played again last night and lost to North Texas, they're a team trying to find their identity. I've read that they've had some injuries and so you never know who's healthy and who's going to play. They'll be a challenge because they've got some older kids and they've got some experience. It just gets back to us doing what we do and being more of an attacking type team rather than waiting to see what the other teams do to us. Again, we're at home and that's why we keep sending that message out to as many people around that can get out to the games. I don't know what else you can do for Thanksgiving, you're not snowed in and there's only so much football they can watch. Come on out and help us out. Last week Pete Newell passed away and you're from California, what interaction did you have with him, if any, maybe at a coaching clinic or something like that?
DS: I've never met the man, I've heard him speak a few times but where I grew up in the L.A. area it was John Wooden and I grew up in the UCLA shadow. But just knowing about Coach Newell and what he's done to the game, he's a Hall of Famer, he's touched a lot of older coaches. All those ideas and things trickle down. I was a big Bob Knight fan in my younger years and so a lot of things we do defensively are from the Knight school which is of course from the Newell school. We all steal from each other, there's not many original thoughts anymore. I think in an indirect way he did have some influence in what we do here.