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 opening league games on the road, the positives that they can build off of from the two losses and returning home to play San Jose State and Fresno State.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the league opener against Utah State this past Thursday night?
Darin Spence: Their big kid actually played a lot better than what we anticipated and was a matchup problem for us. A lot of that was that our defensive positioning on her wasn't as good as we'd like. Another side of it is we had way too many turnovers which lead to their run outs and their fast breaks when you're not balanced defensively and they're getting run outs and fast breaks which actually count as their points in the paint. So they had 31 points off of our 25 turnovers which against them should never happen.
We played well for a lot of the minutes in the game but we had that one usual stretch that let them go on the run. It was a little disappointing, that outcome at Utah State.
bc.net: Tabytha Wampler had her best game of the season with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, she grabbed six rebounds. It was a little bit of an indication of what she's capable of doing.
DS: Tabytha has a lot of ability and a lot of potential and we've made the decision to leave her in the post and let her be our go to player, our play through player. She's accepted that, she's worked hard and she's learning and really trying to apply herself and she had a good game against a couple of big kids. Utah State has probably the biggest team, with their forwards and center, probably the biggest team in the league. She did it against a good team, she just got into a rhythm and we got her the ball in good spots. She's really coming around for us.
bc.net: One of the big positives for you was that you out rebounded them 39-32.
DS: The rebounding statistic is really interesting. We've won games where we've been out rebounded. We've lost games where we out rebounded our opponent. I just think that with a young team, rebounding a lot of times is really the last area you improve in because they're worried about where to be defensively, offensively, there's something that always gets forgotten and unfortunately that's rebounding.
bc.net: The game on Saturday against Nevada, they shot 52% in the first half but you were only down by six. In the second half you held them to 35.5% but the big thing for your team is you held them to just two field goals over the final 11 minutes of the game.
DS: Yeah. The Nevada game, there's a game you talk about rebounding. We defended well in the first half but we didn't rebound well at all so they shot layups off of missed shots which gives them a higher field goal percentage because their second or third shot was a lot easier [than their first]. We played a little matchup zone for 40 minutes and kept them in front of us and didn't let them use their athleticism. We did a really good job but we just didn't finish the possession. We've talked with this team about playing each possession all the way through to its completion. Complete the possession and that's gotta be with a defensive rebound especially when you force tough shots like we did. We did a much better job of that in the second half, we rebounded much better and obviously they didn't get easy shots. The 11 minute period where they didn't score was obviously our best basketball of the year against a really good team. I'm really impressed with Nevada watching them on tape. I think they'll probably be the front runner to win the league. They have good experience, they have a very good guard. Dellena Criner is a really good player. They made plays to keep us from taking the lead late. When we were within three points we just had a couple youthful mistakes at the wrong time. But I'm really proud of our team and how we competed in that game in a tough building.
bc.net: You forced 25 turnovers in that game, you had 16 steals.
DS: Yeah it just shows what our team is capable of doing. If we'll just focus in for 40 minutes, if we'll cut down on the youthful mistakes. A lot of times we're too careless. The young kids get in there and they're so careless with it. The possession doesn't mean enough to them yet. But we're only 16 games in it together so we're still trying to get it figured out. Like I said earlier I'm really pleased with just how we bounced back from the Utah State game. How we played in a lot of areas of the game and we gave ourselves a chance to win. Even with a loss I see this as our springboard game. That's the game we can really build on because we did some good things.
bc.net: Madison scored 17 points and maybe just as importantly Danisha Corbett broke out of her five or six game slump.
DS: Yeah and Day Day took better shots. The thing with her is she's gotta keep learning what a good shot is. When she gets in trouble is when a team gameplans or tries to take her out defensively which is starting to happen now, if she gives in to that and takes bad shots it's not going to help her or us. In the Nevada game she really focused in on driving, getting better shots, taking open shots and just really grew up that game.
Madison did a good job, she knows people are starting to play her tighter. So she's doing a much much better job of getting fouled and getting to the free throw line even when she's not shooting as high a percentage as she's capable of. She's getting to the free throw line. A big positive we've been talking to our team about is we lead the WAC in free throw attempts and free throw makes and we're second in free throw percentage. So what we have to keep doing is we have to keep being aggressive and keep getting fouled and get to the foul line and we've done a pretty good job of that.
bc.net: You talked a little bit about this last week but how much difference did you see in this week's games with the Utah State game being in the evening and the Nevada game being an afternoon game with Madison and her energy level and how much does that help with your league games being evenings on Friday but afternoon early evening on Sundays?
DS: I think it helps her keep her energy and that's always a concern with what to do with her as she's trying to recover and fight this mono bug. Which is really disappointing and frustrating to her, I can see it on her face all the time. The afternoon games are great. If we could switch all our games and play in the afternoon it would play into her favor. If you look at all the afternoon games we've played, she's done well. Kansas, at Kent State. I think even the 5:00 Sunday games at home help us because it's not a 7:00 game. But the concern is when you go to the west coast and you're playing on Pacific time and you play 7:00 games it's really 8:00 our time. We talked about those San Diego games in the tournament and those games were a lot later. But I also think that she's starting to get in a little better shape. She's slowly getting over that. She's getting a little tougher mentally and that's a lot to ask of her as everybody knows that's a tough illness. It takes a lot out of you. She's doing a good job of knowing when to come out and rest when she needs a break and she's telling us so I think that's a big help to her as well.
bc.net: Even though you didn't get a win in these two road conference games you've got to feel good about where your team is coming home. You played two good teams and you played them both pretty tough.
DS: Exactly. I do and we do. I always talk about how we're disappointed but not discouraged. In WAC play we've played two road games and we're 0-2. Okay, a lot of teams are going to go 0-2 on a lot of road games, especially at Utah State and Nevada, that are both solid teams. We have to come back and really take advantage of our two home games.
In practice today our kids came in and they were so upbeat, it was almost scary. They're excited to be back home, I think they get it a little bit better now than they did two weeks ago. Now it's a matter of us continuing to grow and adjust and just keep improving.
bc.net: Friday night you host San Jose State. Their guard Natalie White who is usually a starter, came off the bench and scored 21 points. She hit five threes in the game, coming into that game she had only hit 13 all season prior to that. She's also their best free throw shooter. What will you need to do against them?
DS: We've got to limit her shots. Nothing easy. You want to take her off the three point shot and make her put it on the floor. She's a senior, she's an All-Conference level player, she's scored a lot of points in her career. San Jose is a team that has a lot of new faces. Their record is by no means an indication of how good they are. They've played a very good non-conference schedule. They played at Kansas, at Cal, they played some teams from the power leagues. In WAC play they're 1-1, they lost to Idaho and they beat Hawai'i so they have a win in league play, they know what that's like now. It's going to be important for us to limit their easy point production. We want to make them work for every point they get. We're going to need to play better for a longer stretch. If we've played 30 minutes good we need to play 35 minutes good from here on out.
bc.net: Then Fresno State comes in on Sunday afternoon. They're 11-5 and 2-1 in conference, they lost to Idaho at home, a bit of a shock to the rest of the league. Just like last year they're taking and making a lot of threes. They lead the nation in threes attempted and threes made at almost 10 per game. What will you need to do against them.
DS: Their philosophy now has been we're going to shoot three and we're going to keep shooting them so you gotta go out and guard them. They do a lot off the drive and the passing it out. It's not like they just sit out there. They create those opportunities through their drive. For one, you've got to contain their drive. You've got to get to the shooters. They're not quite as effective scoring in the post as they were last year but that doesn't mean they don't get points in the paint. They can get layups off the drive and if you're too far out on the perimeter in one-on-one that can cause you some trouble too.
We want to be good offensively and make them play on that end of it as well. I'd like to say that we don't want to get the game up into the 70s or 80s like they want but sometimes you do because the floor is open and you can get some layups as well against those teams. It's just a matter of making your easy shots. We just can't give them offensive rebounds, we can't turn the ball over and we want to make sure we get good shots every time down the floor.
bc.net: How important is it for your team to not get caught up in trying to get into a three point shooting contest with them.
DS: You can get drug into that false sense of reality. We do have kids who can shoot threes as well, we want to make five a game and that's our goal. Maybe that particular night we make 10. We're now starting to develop a little bit better balance inside and outside and so I think what's important is to take what they give you. If you make 30% or 33% which is I think where we are [Ed. Note: The Aggies are second in the league in three point percentage]. We've shown we can make them, if we have to shoot more then maybe we'll make more if that's what that night calls for.
bc.net: Rebounding wise what's the difference playing a team like San Jose State versus playing a team like Fresno State where the rebounds are longer rebounds, how do you adjust and prepare for that?
DS: The longer the shot the longer the rebound. Especially if you're defending them tough and making them miss. If they're making them rebounding doesn't matter because you can just grab it out of the net. The longer the shot you force, you've got to really push back farther out on the floor to get rebounds. It's something we work on every single day but until you're in that game you don't know where to go. We work a lot on the adjustment of who we're playing and knowing where the shot's coming from first of all and then going after the rebound.