bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/05/09

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 the last four games and the start of conference play on the road.

bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Long Beach State game?
Darin Spence: We started that game really sluggish. That was probably the one game where we had a little bit of a hangover from throwing out a lot of emotion and energy in that New mexico game where we played really well for a long stretch and had a dry stretch and their [New Mexico's] experience took the game over. I just think we were a little emotionally spent from the New Mexico game and it was a quick turnaround traveling.

bc.net: And it was right before Christmas too.
DS: Yeah, it was right before Christmas and once we dug the hole, we started to play better but at times you did too deep of a hole and it's too hard to get out of. What we also found out is that a lot of our opponents are starting to gameplan against Madison and Day Day [Danisha Corbett]. So we need a third and fourth scorer to step up. And Long Beach State was a lot better team than their record. They've been beaten by some pretty good teams in road games but they're a pretty solid team as well.

bc.net: You played the entire second half of that game without Danisha Corbett.
DS: Exactly. She banged her knee up in the first half with about five minutes to go. She could have tried to play but at that point in time there's really no need to. Whether we're winning or losing that was irrelevant. We always want to make sure our kids are healthy and the big picture of the thing is WAC play. So we want to make sure she's healthy so we sat her. What it did is it gave Kaitlyn Soto and Brittany Palmer a lot more time. We tinkered around and put Madison at the 2 and she started shooting the ball better as well. And then Taylor Altenburg came in, a six foot guard that's got a good skillset, can shoot the ball, she gave us some good minutes as well. Even in a loss we found some positives that even today we're building on.

bc.net: Then you went out to San Diego for the Maggie Dixon Surf 'N Slam Classic and took on Long Island in the first game.
DS: Long Island won 24 games a year ago and as we found out last year, if you win 20 plus games it doesn't matter what league you play in. That's tough to do at this level. They were really strong at guard, they really controlled each possession. They never played in a hurry, they were always under control and they had some forwards that were pretty good. They could score, smaller than we were but more athletic. They just really tested us, played a triangle and 2 on us which was something we had not played against at all. It was another new thing for our kids and again it was just one of those games where once we dug a hole, we were able to start building back and get out of it but again it was too little too late.

bc.net: Then a couple days later you took on Illinois-Chicago.
DS: Another really good team. That's the thing through our schedule, we've played some teams that people may not know because of the name of them but they're pretty solid teams. Good experience, good size. Illinois-Chicago had two really good guards and had a post kid that I don't think she missed a shot that game. It was one of those things that in that game we missed shots. We started the game off okay and then we missed shots and it seemed like the harder we tried the worse it got on the offensive end. Of course not a good trip for us as far as win loss record. That Illinois-Chicago game we rebounded better. And we out rebounded them by a wide margin. That was something we talked about pre-game that it was an area we had to improve and in that game we did. There's so many things we can grab from each game that we're continuing to build on.

bc.net: Going back to the Long Island game, I believe they had only five fouls called them the entire game.
DS: Yeah, we never got in the bonus. And that's another thing too if you don't get to the foul line. And we've been pretty good at getting fouled and shooting free throws. I thought I was back at the Pit playing UNM, how we get treated up there with calls. But it was a real strange game and we had a couple of the same officials the next night and I got a technical then but it was carryover from the first game. But if you can't get to the free throw line you lose easy points. That night that hurt us a bunch.

bc.net: In the Illinois-Chicago game Madison didn't have a field goal, what were they able to do to her defensively?
DS: Yeah. I think a lot of it more so wasn't so much Illinois-Chicago, she's still not healthy. We go back and forth every day, do we just sit her and not play her? She wants to keep playing. But she was really sluggish that game, really really sluggish. What we've found out is the evening games are tough on her. I know that mono gets you in the later stages of the day. Back when was getting strep throat it would hit me in the evening. She had very little energy. I only played her 15 minutes in the game, she wasn't on her game and just like any other player if you're not producing you're not going to get many minutes that night. We gave her some chances to fight out of hit but you could just see it wasn't happening that night. She couldn't change gears, she was at the same pace and so we just told her to sit down. And then we still had Day Day nursing that banged up knee in both of those games. We practiced two days before we played the first game in San Diego and Day Day didn't practice at all. So then now you take your top two scorers, and Madison and Day Day just weren't real good in either of those games and if that's going to happen then it's really going to hurt our chances. But again it gave our other kids a chance to play more minutes. Brittany Palmer had a really good weekend. Tabytha Wampler started to come around and so we saw some good play out of some of the other kids.

bc.net: Sunday you took a trip back home to Kansas to a state where you've spent a good portion of your coaching career.
DS: It's a special place. University of Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse is really a neat basketball environment. It's a challenge to go there. They're really good. They're another team that will probably this week get into the Top 25. They've been getting votes for a long time, they're 11-2 and they're big. They're a Big 12 team. We found out what a big big step it is in basketball to go to the Big 12. It was a learning experience and the good thing about it is that we weren't their money game so we're going to have them back here in our building next year to play. That's another exciting part of it too. It's a team that's been together for three years, some of those kids have been there three years, four years. They've got good experience, good size. But we found ways to make good plays. Tabytha Wampler started asserting herself in the post, got good shots. I think she surprised herself by how open she was at times and she just missed some turnaround jump hooks. Then again shooting over 6'5" players was something new as well. We had four or five steals to layups out in transition that we missed. I know our kids were a little nervous. When you're going into the Big 12 and their pregame hoopla and that environment, they only had 2000 people but they're right on top of you. When they fill their lower to mid section like they did they're right on top of you. They're not extended and moved back like they are at the Pan Am. At Allen Fieldhouse theyr'e right on top of you. It was a good experience, we did some good things. We didn't sustain and we got hurt with our efficiency for a long period of time but Kansas had a lot to do with that as well. We've just gotta believe that that game and the others are going to prepare us for next week.

bc.net: There were a lot of positives to take from the second half and maybe a good way to go into league play, you shot the ball a lot better than you have in the six losses and it was the best half of basketball shooting wise since the second half at Northern Colorado and maybe a sign that your team is starting to come out of that offensive lull.
DS: We talked about just running a couple things and we really executed better, we got open shots. Madison started asserting herself better. The problem with our guards have been is when they've started their drives is instead of going right into their shots they'd stop which would allow the defense to catch back up and contest their shot. In the second half they didn't do that. They just continued their move, pulled up, hit midrange shots. We started getting more touches with Tabytha in the post and that brought the defense off our guards a little bit and the two things we kept running on offense we executed better. We got better screens, we put the ball in better locations on the floor and so right there within that 20 minutes we did take a step for the better. We grew up, we got better shots, we defended better. Each timeout we said, "Okay, here's the score." We didn't worry about the big score, we worried about what that score was in each of those four minute periods and we were doing okay. Even in that half they had one spurt that was like a 12-2 run that opened it up in that half.

It's encouraging and this group didn't sit in the locker room and whine and mope and blame anybody. It was about, "Coach we can do this better, we're gonna do this better." Their spirit is high, we went to dinner afterwards and we all hung out together and we just have a pretty good group right now that is wanting to compete and wanting to get better.

bc.net: One thing that stood out as far as your team's defensive play is even though Kansas scored 91 points, a lot of those came at the free throw line and their top scorer was 4-14, it wasn't like they were getting a lot of easy baskets.
DS: Yeah and that's the other things, they got some foul shots, we didn't get very many but we did go 7-10 from the free throw line. I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half guarding their guards but their big kids scored, which they definitely have an advantage over ours. But then second half we did a much better job of guarding their bigs and their guards hit some shots. Then some of their kids who don't play a lot came in and hit some shots. What they did do a good job of is they scored on almost all of our turnovers. We had some turnovers that didn't come at the right time, which none of them do but we threw the ball to someone standing on the sideline and so they would drop the ball in play instead of go out of bounds with it and then they'd take it and go shoot a layup. But we did better defensive, we bounced between our man to man and some of our zone, we started working on some halfcourt traps. Every game I've seen some bright spots. Now it's just a matter of being a lot more efficient for longer stretches. That's what we're looking to do here in practice and then we'll go to Utah State.

bc.net: This week you open up conference play with another road trip. On Thursday night you take on Utah State.
DS: They're a good solid team. I've thought for three years that they were much better than what their record was, they just hadn't put things together. They've got a quick guard who runs the point guard for them. They've got a couple shooters on the wing, they've got good size. But we've won two out of the last three times at Utah State. Although we only have a few on this team that have been through those games. It's an environment where they don't get a big crowd, you don't have to worry about their crowd taking the game over. So if you can go in there and provide some energy for yourselves and play well you'll have a chance. They haven't played near the schedule that we've played. They did beat BYU at BYU in overtime but again that's two hours down the road on the bus as opposed to all the flights that we've taken. But again this is the start of our real season.

This is all we've talked about and I think the light bulb's turning on right now for our players and I really expect us to go in there and give ourselves a chance to win the game.

bc.net: Then on Saturday you take on Nevada.
DS: Nevada I think with Fresno State is one of the top two teams in our league. They have a good win over Top 15 ranked Louisville who was 10th or 9th ranked when they beat them. They have good experience, they're very athletic. They've got a lot of kids back that have played together for a couple years now. But again we've had success playing at Nevada. We got beat there in overtime there last year and the year before it was a really close game. We've been in position to win there and we've beat them pretty good here at our place. It's an afternoon game, we're going to go in there and we want to try to get a split on road games in conference play and if we can do that we'll be in a good spot.

bc.net: One of the trademarks of the games you've played with Nevada is that the games have been very physical. How important is it to get the kids some rest before going on the road for these two games.
DS: In years past they've always played full court and held you and grabbed you but now this year they've played very little. They've played mostly half court defense but they are a quick and aggressive team. They've got a new coaching staff in there and they're trying to play a lot more position defense than what they've played in the past where they've played wrestle, arm to arm combat defense but we do expect them to be very physical. But again we've played New Mexico twice, UTEP twice, University of Kansas, Long Island, Illinois-Chicago, Cal Poly, we've played some good basketball teams. I'd like to say that because they're in the WAC they're better than those teams but that's not the case. We've played a really good schedule so far. A lot of teams that were so much better than we might have thought going into the game. I really believe we're prepared and now it's a matter of not having test anxiety anymore and come game time just go out let loose and play.

bc.net: Do you talk to your players at all about what happened last year with Fresno State, the way that they started out the non-conference is very similar to the way that you've started it off and then they went on a huge tear in league play (14-2).
DS: Exactly. They started 0-6, my team three years ago started 0-6 and we got to the finals of the WAC tournament. We've talked about both teams starting poorly, we talked about last year's Wake Forest team starting 13-0 and then winning only one game in league play so it goes both ways. That's why people have to understand that what you do in preseason and non-conference can help you get some confidence or it can teach you what you can be exposed at, your weaknesses. But it prepares you for your league play. You don't get a trophy if you're 13-0 or 14-0. Look at the guys, they struggled first semester and won their first road game in WAC play. This is my 25th year of coaching in college and I've had the same philosophy and the same message to all those teams. We've always, in every year I've coached have played our best basketball at the end of the year. I expect that to be the same this year. We were picked to finish 5th in the league and I said way back then that 5th might have been a little high based on what we have but this team, it wouldn't surprise me to win the league. It really wouldn't. We sure don't want to play in the play-in game in the tournament and finish 8th or 9th. But our goal is to always finish in that top five or top four. We've got a long way to go, some tough competition. We're getting better each day and we just gotta keep moving forward.