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 big sweep at home against San Jose State and Fresno State, the play of Erica Sanchez and Niki Holt and this week's games against Boise State and Idaho.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the San Jose State game?
Darin Spence: Coming off a long stretch of away games and traveling and getting beat eight games in a row you never how your kids are going to bounce back. Even though we've practiced well and had a lot of energy and spirit in our practices you just never know because you're just waiting for that first negative thing to happen to you and how are you going to respond. I'm really pleased and I'm really proud of our players and how they fought through it and didn't let anything turn negative against us in the game. When San Jose State made a little run we did something to stop it and I was really pleased to finally see all of those lessons hit the floor and be a positive for us.
bc.net: Every time San Jose State would make a run to cut your lead down to around 10 or 12 your team responded and pushed the lead back up. How important was that to finish the game out strong especially heading into the Fresno State game?
DS: It was huge. Under four minutes, there was about 3:40-something, that last media timeout, I knew we were going to win the game, I knew they were going to keep pressing us and try to foul and shoot free throws. I knew we had a big enough lead but I watched some of our younger kids still rush down and try to make a play when we really didn't need to. So at that point we still hadn't learned score and time. Young kids don't understand score and time, if you're up 14 that's enough, you don't need any more points, you need the ball and at worse let the shot clock run out and give them the ball and go play defense. So I saw us suffer through a few of those possessions but in the back of my mind I'm thinking I've got to get some of my players out because we've got a game Sunday afternoon and so I started subbing some of the other kids who hadn't played a lot. I think I even called a timeout in the stretch that they were in because I never want kids to think it's mop up time. I always want them to think that two minutes or one minute is quality time and after that timeout that group that finished also did a good job. They gave us some momentum going into Sunday. You're always afraid that the other team throws in some late shots and then you lose your momentum going into the next game. I'm pleased that that didn't happen and we came out with a much needed win.
bc.net: Niki Holt had 13 rebounds and five blocks. Talk about her play because she then carried that over into the game against Fresno State and had seven rebounds and another five blocks.
DS: Niki is an important part of this team right now. I think her coming off the bench right now has really allowed her to be comfortable and not worry so much and she's done a really good job of filling that job that Carla Denning played for us. Carla didn't worry about scoring unless she was wide open on an offensive rebound. Niki's really taken to that mindset where she's going to play defense, she's gonna block shots. If she gets fouled she'll make most of her free throws. She's running the floor and just playing in a lot better state of mind.
And with that change, with Erica Sanchez in the lineup, Erica brings us someone who's a little bit more scoring oriented in her mind and that gives us another offensive weapon out there. Niki's done a great job playing with a lot of energy, blocking shots and rebounding and that's something we really need from her.
bc.net: Your thoughts on the Fresno State game. One big stat that stuck out was you had 14 assists and just two turnovers at the half.
DS: That's something we always talk about as coaches. You want to have possession of the ball, if you can get assists that's always a good thing. On the other side of that is people have to be making shots. Our kids did a great job against a very good team, sticking to the gameplan that we put in on Saturday and how we wanted to defend them and how we wanted to score on them. Our kids really bounced back less than 48 hours later and put together a really strong effort. I'm really proud of them for that.
bc.net: Coming out of the second half you held Fresno State to 3-13 shooting through the first 10 minutes of the second half to really help build up that lead after going in tied at halftime.
DS: You know our kids were hungry. Even in the second half of the San Jose game, we came out and really got after them. But we've had some games where we haven't got after it at the beginning of the second half. At Nevada, we lost that game at the very beginning of the second half. It's something we've talked a lot about. We got real excited before we hit the floor against San Jose and Fresno and our kids really got after them. We did a great job defensively being in the right spot and we did a much much better job of having balance on the offensive end.
bc.net: You lead most of the first half then Fresno State took the lead at 40-38 late in the half. The team had played really well, psychologically how important was it to be able to go into halftime saying, "We played really really well and we're tied," as opposed to, "We played really really well but we're still down."
DS: It's huge because young teams sometimes they say, "Golly, we had to play THAT hard and we still got beat." We've gone through that a couple games where they start questioning, "We have to play this hard for 40 minutes and we still might lose?" That's something that kids at the Division I level have to get used to and have to understand. This is a tough level, there's good coaches, good players, good programs, you may play your best and still get beat. So you just have to keep battling for 40 minutes or 45 minutes, however long you've gotta go. We always write on the board, "Whatever it takes, As long as it takes." And that's something we really try to stick to. And we just plug away.
For us to be tied, we made a couple plays at the end of the half to give us a little bit of momentum going into halftime even though we were just tied. Having the assists and having the few turnovers was big going into that second half.
bc.net: Madison had 20 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, three steals and her two games earned herself WAC Player of the Week. It's her first and maybe a bit surprising that it's only her first.
DS: Obviously we're all proud, from a coach, from a dad, from a program, we're proud to have somebody recognized by the league office. But it's really a good sign, a positive sign of what her teammates are doing around her as well. She'll be the first one that the teammates are really playing around her much much better now. They're finding her when they need to find her, they're getting open, she's finding them. Her game is growing.
it's really kind of strange that even all of last year with the great year we had I think Sherell Neal was Player of the Week once. Even this year, someone from Hawai'i might have deserved it but they haven't won a game but we have no control over that so we just go out and play. Madi and Danisha and all the kids on our team just go out and compete.
bc.net: Maybe the surprise of the weekend, especially for those who haven't followed the team, was the play of Erica Sanchez. She came into the two games averaging about 11 minutes per game and about 2.5 points per game, she plays 25 and 22 minutes against San Jose State and Fresno State and in the Fresno State game was a huge factor, she hit a big three against Fresno State.
DS: I'm the one that recruited her, we didn't sign her until late July before her freshman year so she wasn't able to come to summer school and hang out with her teammates of last year so she's always been a little bit behind. But being 6'3" and long and this year she's got herself in much better shape coming in, we've still got to get her a lot stronger in the weight room. Even back when Tabytha struggled a little bit, we started Erica against New Mexico here and she played really well. Erica's got a little mean streak to her. She's a tough kid and she's got a scorer's mentality and now it's just a matter of her defending better and being more comfortable on the floor. She's doing a great job of offensive rebounding, she chasing balls down and she has the mindset where if you throw it to her and she's open she's going to shoot it and she's going to make it and she's got a nice shot. As you said she hit a huge three in the second half the other day and she got some big rebounds for us and she's starting to defend much better.
bc.net: She also had five blocks in the two games as well.
DS: She's long and she's athletic enough and against, just being a sophomore. She's a young sophomore. That's the other thing that people might not understand. We've got a freshmen and sophomores but they're younger. We've got a lot of July birthdays, Danisha Corbett, her birthday isn't until November, she really could be a freshman this year. We've got a young, young group. I can't imagine many more teams across Division I being much younger than we are this year. We're in that youth movement this year but slowly but surely they're starting to get it and Erica's a big part of that.
bc.net: Kaitlyn Soto had a pair of good games, she scored 10 points against San Jose and 13 points against Fresno State and was 3-4 from the three point line after hitting just four coming into that game. But as part of the larger picture, your three young guards, Danisha, Madison and Kaitlyn scored 88 points combined this weekend.
DS: Yeah, that's pretty good. We've gone to more of that guard attack this year and for that reason. What it's also done is allowed Tabytha Wampler to get a lot more comfortable in the post too.
Kaitlyn is one of my favorite players on this team. She's like that little puppy that does some bad things but then wants your attention. She's so feisty, she's so mean on that court but off the court she's a great kid. She plays hard, she competes hard. She doesn't realize she's only about 5'7" and she'll tackle the 6'3" kids and try to run them over. But I think that's what makes her good, she's not afraid to make the plays. She'll defend you, she will foul you because she's so physical. She did a great job of making open shots against Fresno State, she drives the ball well and she takes a lot of the pressure off Madison. It lets Madi play the 2 and just catch and shoot, it lets Madi attack from different angles on the floor. Kaitlyn's going to be a very good player for us this year and for three more years.
bc.net: And as part of that youth movement at guard you've also got Brittany Palmer. So you've got three sophomores (Danisha, Madison and Brittany) and one freshman (Kaitlyn).
DS: Yeah and sometimes they don't really know what they're doing because they're so young and they don't have that game experience, 17 or 18 games now. So they're still trying to find themselves. Brittany Palmer didn't play a lot last year, Erica Sanchez didn't play a lot last year and even Danisha Corbett didn't play a lot last year either. Sometimes that's the curse of having so many seniors is that your young kids don't get to shine early in their career but they're starting to right now. They're starting to get it, starting to play well and our future looks pretty bright.
bc.net: On Friday night you take on Boise State, they lost Jessica Thompson and Tasha Harris who were both a big part of their team last year, then they also lost Ja'Lara Walker and Sierra Moeller. So they're without four good players. What will you need to do against them on Friday night to come out with a win?
DS: Well Boise and us, we've developed an interesting rivalry. I don't want to say it's a dislike but there's been some stuff said back and forth that our kids don't like. We beat them two out of three times last year, we should have beat them three times last year, we had a little two foot shot at the buzzer in overtime that went in and out and so we lost by one. We had that great comeback in the tournament, down by 19. Their people went to the WAC people and accused us of trying to intimidate them. So the kids in our program know that. As soon as we were done in the locker room after the Fresno game that's all our returners talked about. "We don't like 'em, we've got this rivalry, they don't like us." It's going to be an intense game. They've got enough kids on that team that were through it last year that they're going to be really looking for us knowing that they feel they should have beat us here in the tournament. So they're going to be fired up. It's going to be an intense game, we're going to have to play well, defend well and let our offense fall where it will.
bc.net: Then on Sunday you take on Idaho on Sunday. They're off to a 3-1 start in league. They get almost all of their production out of just six players. Obviously your bench goes a little bit deeper than that. Do you think your depth will be an advantage especially with Idaho playing Louisiana Tech on Friday and La. Tech is a pretty physical team inside.
DS: I do. But give Idaho some credit. They're finding a way for that limited rotation to do it. They're playing a lot of 2-3 zone and what they do is letting you make the mistakes. If you make a shot they just go back down and try to play offense. They do a good job of trying to spread you out and attack you just like what we saw against Fresno State. I've seen them play on tape about three or four different times and each of their games they played a different offense. But I think now they've settled into that drive and pass. They have a pretty good little point guard, Charlotte Otero she plays all 40 minutes, San Diego kid, I know her well. She does a great job of running the team, she never picks her dribble up always keeps the ball ands she just finds open players and they've got kids stepping up and making shots. You just hope you can get out and just defend and use our bench and wear them down through 40 minutes.