Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 12/18/08 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 the Aggies' loss at Northern Colorado and the upcoming rematch against UNM and their trip to Long Beach State on Monday. Your thoughts on the Northern Colorado game?
Darin Spence: On one aspect I'm disappointed in how we came out and started the game off and got ourselves in a deep hole to begin with but at the same time I'm encouraged by how we fought back and got in the game. We were one possession away from winning the game. They were trying to give it to us down the stretch. We made a big run at them and just gave up an untimely late offensive rebound which they scored on and that's the game. In years past we've been on the road and we've been down double figures we've just beat by 20 plus. So the good thing about this team, we had a chance to win at UTEP, we had a chance to win at Kent State and we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win at Northern Colorado. From that aspect and taking a step back and looking at the big picture of it maybe this will help us win a couple on the road later on that we're not supposed to. I gotta believe that at some point in time all the lessons come to the forefront and this team grows up. Speaking of the close losses this season, your team had a lot of close losses last season but really with the youth of this year's team there are only two players who played significant minutes in those losses last season so you're kind of learning those lessons again with a new group this season.
DS: I think the [close] games that we've had, the ones that we've won and the ones that we've lost have given us a much better read on the team that we have or the team that we think we can develop into. Sometimes early season you see teams that have big margins, or those teams that have home guarantee games and win by 40 or go be a guarantee game and get beat by 40, I don't know what you get out of those games. I think the more close games you can be in, I think you're really going to benefit from that. It takes time to learn how to win those games.

Last year even with that older team we lost all those games in overtime by one or two points, even that group didn't learn how to win those. This group having gone through those close games early in their time together, I'm trying to be as optimistic and positive as possible, even through my frustration, that it's going to pay off for us at some point in time and maybe that time will be Saturday. The team got down by 17 in the first half but closed on a 9-2 run to cut it to 10 at halftime and then got down again by 16 in the second half but fought all the way back and were down by two and really you did it with players other than Day Day [Danisha Corbett] and Madison [Spence].
DS: Yeah, no question, I think that shows that we have a team, we're not just two people. To be frankly honest, I was really and still am disappointed in how Tyshae, Madi and Day Day played. Those are our main players and if they have a bad night, we're not going to have a chance to win. Pushing that aside, I was encouraged to see how the others fought through things and came in. Kelsie Rozendaal has just been giving us good minutes each day she steps on the court. Niki [Holt] probably played one of her better games she's played all year. She hit a big shot down that stretch in that run and blocked some shots. She's figuring out how to be a better rebounder, she's a solid defender. She had one of her better games. Areyal stepped up and played really well and gave us some good minutes. Tabytha struggled all night, got in some early foul trouble and never really got in her game. The brief minutes that Erica Sanchez got us, she did some good things for us. Obviously Kaitlyn Soto picked the slack up and really got us going and she's got a lot of energy. So yeah, it's nice to see your other players step up when you really need them in a tough game and not just say, "Golly, we're gonna get beat tonight, the heck with it." I'm really upbeat about this group and I think all these lessons are going to pay off for us. Areyal LeDeatte, Niki Holt and Kelsie Rozendaal combined for 24 rebounds, definitely one of your better games from your post players overall. You've got to be pleased with how your post players stepped up.
DS: Yeah and that wasn't a real easy game for them to play in because Northern Colorado didn't have what you'd call a traditional post player. They would step out, shoot threes and it really drug them out on the floor and took them out of position they're used to being in as far as rebounding and helping on drives. I really feel good about how they responded in that game. We knew that we could have an advantage with our post players. The interesting thing with us is one game we get our guards playing the next game we get our insides going and one of these days the two will meet and I still think when that day comes, look out because we're going to be pretty good. Saturday you take on UNM, obviously it was a tough game up there in Albuquerque losing by 32 but just like the second go around with UTEP, will UNM be seeing a different UNM team than what they faced a couple weeks ago?
DS: I believe so but at the same time New Mexico is really good. I've watched tapes, I just got done watching them against UTEP, they're better than they've been the last two years, I really believe that. They're not so one dimension, the last couple of years it was all Dionne Marsh, "Here take the ball and go score and we'll just watch you play." This team is a lot more balanced, they have good experience together, they're tough, obviously they have a good scheme and how they play and they don't beat themselves. I've been saying it for six years, I'm really impressed. UNM is good and they're good for a reason. They have a lot to build on, a lot to draw from. We have our work cut out for us, there's not question. They're by far our biggest, toughest opponent that we'll play all year. I know they're getting votes so they're in that Top 30 in the country. Their RPI is really high. They're as good as what you see anywhere in the country. If we can give ourselves a chance to win this game then that'll be saying something for our team and it'd be a huge 30 or 40 point turnaround for our team from the first game.

But just because it's here it just doesn't happen. They're coming in here looking for their first road win of the season and we're just trying to keep playing too. i haven't been this impressed with an opponent as I am with New Mexico right now. They're really good and obviously with the help of our fans and support from our community. If we can get out here and put 3,000 or 5,000 people in here to help our kids with the 2:00 starting time I think that would help our kids hit a whole other level. I've said this before, UNM is a program that I've always looked to when trying to build this one. How much do you use the 32 point loss at UNM as motivation or do you throw it out? What's your strategy when you have a game like that?
DS: We have to look at it. You want to put it behind you and forget about it and say "we're better than that." But at the same time we've used that to really try to teach our players. One it's a very tough environment, we won't play in that tough an environment the rest of the year even if we were to play in the tournament at Connecticut, it's not going to be that tough. You've been there, that's a great place to be. It's a fun place. I don't like getting drilled up there or even getting beat but for me it's fun to go there. From how the PA announcer is, to the band, to the cheerleaders, that's what college basketball is all about.

But we have watched the tape, we've learned from it, we're going to watch some more of it tonight when they come in and all around the locker room, we've got it taped on their lockers, on the walls the score. Remember 48-80. We're using that trying to find some motivation. We're not that bad, we're a different team, we're going to prepare and practice and we're going to go out and fight and claw and give ourselves a chance. You turn around and play Long Beach State on Monday, they're 2-6 on the season but they've played one of the tougher non-conference slates you'll see for a mid-major without playing high-majors. They've got 11 juniors or seniors on their team so they're a pretty experienced team.
DS: The interesting thing about them is they've had some injuries early and they're starting to get some kids back. Carina Figueroa is their top guard, I don't think she's played yet. They believe they might get her back for our game or after our game. She's really is the calming force on that team. I've only watched them a couple minutes on tape. They're athletic in some spots, they're not overly big.

They've played a couple WAC teams, they won at Idaho and beat San Jose State pretty good at home and that's their two wins, against two WAC teams. As far as our WAC teams, we need to be better in non-conference games, us included. We're going to have our hands full there too. We're going to try get our first road win. It'll be like playing in practice, it's a 3:30 PT time, there won't be anybody in the crowd but we'll have a pretty big following there with all of our California kids.

The scary thing is you don't know how our kids are going to respond win or lose the New Mexico game, our kids know they're going home right after that. We finish the game out there and then have the break because they're all leaving form there. You hope the maturity of the group doesn't allow them to think that way. And this group, I don't think we will, we'll be there ready to play the game. Now if we beat New Mexico I'm sure we'll be really fired up to go in there and say, "Okay, now let's go get this road win." If we don't win on Saturday it'll be a totally different mindset. Are you back being fragile? We're going to have to be ready to go either way. It's been a goal of mine to get to seven wins in non-conference play and we still have a chance to do that. With such a young team, how important are these trips for helping your kids to bond?
DS: I think it's really important. What we have them do is have them room with different people every trip. You want everybody to get to know everybody on the team. What we do on the road is, I stole something from the Remember the Titans movie and I have them sit down and write down things about their roommate that they didn't know. That helps them get to know everybody on their team. We switch the roommates all the time, mix them around. From a basketball standpoint it allows us to get a little tougher in road games so that when league games come maybe we'll have it figured out by then.

Maybe this schedule would have helped us out a year ago with the older team but I do think it's helping this group this year grow up pretty fast. We're not getting killed on the road, we're actually giving ourselves a chance. As disappointed as we might be in going 0-4 on the road, there's some good that's going to come out of it. We're learning, we're getting better. We've had different challenges where we've had a lead in road games and given it away and had to fight back in it whereas at UNM we couldn't fight to get back in that one but they're pretty good. Bu this last one we could. So we're getting a lot of different lessons in each game and it's all going to be for the betterment of our team down the road.