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 two heartbreaking home losses, their upcoming home games against Nevada and Hawai'i and his team's resiliency bouncing back from tough losses.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Boise State game?
Darin Spence: I thought we played pretty well. We did some good things. We obviously didn't finish it and close the deal in a game that we could have won. We should have won, we had a lot of things going our way. We just didn't come out in the second half and play to finish it. You always talk about playing not to lose vs. playing to win and I think we got caught up in that. Boise State got hot and it was just hard to get the momentum switched back.
bc.net: At the end of the game Day Day [Danisha Corbett] got a pretty good look at the basket. Is that the look you wanted to get?
DS: We ran that same set a couple years ago when we lost in overtime at Utah State. In fact it was Cecilia Russell-Nava that actually got the ball. We got her running to the basket with the ball in her hand and we shoot a lot of those kind of shots at certain times in practice. So we thought it was right within her range, she probably could have pulled up and shot it one bounce earlier but she's facing the basket and it was really about all you could ask for.
bc.net: You shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, almost 40 percent in the second half and 50 percent in the overtime session. Usually when you do that you're going to win unfortunately you had 11 turnovers in the second half that led to 17 of their points.
DS: Right, that's really just the disappointing part of it. We did a lot of things well, but having not been in this situation a lot of times, and it's our fault we haven't been in this situation, it's just a new chapter. You're trying to get used to doing it on the run. We just didn't make the plays. What happened was our guards put our big players in a bad spot. We gave them the ball in spots on the floor where they didn't need it and then when a trap was coming or they laid back, we threw the ball to the other team. That really hurts your floor balance and then they get some runouts in transition and you can't guard that because you're not ready to run back yet. That's just disappointing that we didn't keep the ball in the hands of our guards long enough to where they could go and make plays, drive, get fouled and get to the foul line.
bc.net: Then against Idaho the kids really bounced back well, they came out in the first half and shot 60 percent from the field.
DS: I was really pleased. With our team and our psyche and what we've been through you just didn't know how we'd come back. I told the coaches after the Boise State game that's one of those games you may never bounce back from. Even the day after it was that disappointing and I could see it on our players faces. But we met with them and we told them, forget about what we've already done. We're now in an eight game schedule, that's all we've got left before the tournament, I said let's finish as strong as we can. So win or lose, these last eight games let's finish as strong as we can. Again, I'm trying to develop this momentum like we've done in the past going into the tournament. Win or lose, let's compete, let's play the way we can play. I was pleased with the way we bounced back and really got after Idaho and did some really positive things in that first half.
bc.net: You were only able to get to the free throw line nine times against Idaho and that's an area that you're usually shooting more than double that. What were they able to do to keep you off the line?
DS: Well their zone is a little different, they're comfortable in their zone but again we shot a better percentage. I'm not going to say we didn't get fouled, but we shot the ball well from the perimeter and we had some good inside play. The second half, as stagnant as we became and we turned the ball over again, we just weren't real good in the second half and weren't going to get rewarded. I thought there were four or five plays that we should have been shooting free throws, it just didn't work out that way.
bc.net: You did a good job on Yinka Oloruniffe, in the first game she had 17 points and 19 rebounds, in this game you held her to five points and 10 rebounds.
DS: She's a good player, she's athletic but it really makes it difficult that she travels a lot. There's no easy way to say that. She's hard to guard, she's got an extra step. But she's kind of a mismatch problem for our bigs. There are some stretches, she shoots the ball pretty well but our kids did a great job, we helped well. We banged her around a little bit, we knocked her around and I think got in her head and I think that affected her as well.
bc.net: Madison only attempted six shots on the night and when you've got a game where she only attempts six shots, that's not what you want.
DS: Well, I told our coaches after the Boise State game that I was seriously thinking about not playing her at all against Idaho. Just that fatigue catching up to her and you could see that it did, playing an overtime game. She was just wiped out on Saturday. Looking back if I had to do it all over again I wouldn't have played her. For her health, and we're always concerned with the health of our players and the long term effects. But being a competitor she wanted to play. Me thinking about we need to win a game, got caught up in that. Looking back I shouldn't have played her. And she only shot once in the second half. Now you've got someone out there who's not being aggressive and not playing to her strengths and it did affect us. At the same time Brittany Palmer played well but Kaitlyn Soto didn't play her best in the two games this weekend being back at home. I just thought with Madison's experience, just having her out there might be better than the alternative.
bc.net: What do you tell the girls after having a second loss like the Boise State game.
DS: Well there's a couple ways you can go. The first way is to be upset and show the disappointment and the frustration and be mad about what we didn't do right but we've had a whole season of that. I talked to them before the Idaho game about how we're on an eight game schedule and told the coaches, "we can't state the obvious anymore." So it's all about doing the best we can in these eight games. So the message still was, now we've got seven games. We can still learn and build off of the two games this weekend. That's the message. I'm really trying to paint that glass is half full picture and we're not that far away and it just takes a win or two to really get it turned around. And a win against probably one of the most unlikely opponents is Nevada, that could get things turned around. We did point out that of the seven games we have left that there's some pretty tough opponents. We have got to be ready and not just think, "okay, here we go." We've got to do the work and we've got to focus. The big message is we've just got to be tougher in everything we do.
bc.net: You've talked about the little bit of concern you had with the team coming home and maybe thinking that just by being home that there would be a switch flipped and you would win. But despite the two losses, your team didn't have that mentality, they really came out and played hard and worked hard.
DS: No question. At timeouts a few of the players kept saying, "We've got more, we've got more. Let's do more" and that I haven't heard all year long, as far as that open encouragement. Especially when things don't go so well. Young teams have a tendency, not to be negative with each other, but to not say anything at all. So that in itself was a positive for me. That in itself was a positive for me, to see that encouragement especially from that nine that we play. We've gone to where we're just going to play nine players from here on out and roll the dice with them and they've really accepted that. I'm really pleased with them having stepped on the floor both nights and really got after it and worked hard and gave ourselves a chance.
bc.net: Friday night you face Nevada. You played them really tough, you came from 19 down in the second half and nearly stole a victory in Reno. They've lost two in a row, both at home this past weekend.
DS: They're a scary team. There's so much experience. Their seniors, they're really athletic and just a real talented team. But we've had real good games with them at Nevada, close games, and then we've beaten them here. You kinda hope that trend continues. We know that they're going to be angry and upset coming off two home losses. But they lost to Fresno and Utah State that are good solid teams. But we know we have to be ready, we have to defend, we have to take care of the ball, we have to be aggressive and try to release. We talk about playing behind them, backdoor to the basket, that kind of thing and being real aggressive and defensively being in the right spot at the right time. And we're angry two coming off losses. The way that we've been playing at home, we're hoping for the better that we take that next step.
bc.net: Then on Sunday you take on Hawai'i, an important game for both teams as you're trying to stay out of that 8/9 play in game in the tournament.
DS: Right now we're tied with them and we get them back to back. Whatever happens with Nevada, we need to take care of them [Hawai'i] on the home court. Then bounce back next week and play them at their place. It's kinda like an NBA schedule. Hawai'i is trying to find themselves just like we are. They play a lot of matchup zone, they have good size. But they turn the ball over a lot. If we just play solid defensively we might be able to force some turnovers and get some points that way. No question we're going to have to be ready to play.
bc.net: This won't actually be the first time you've had to play an opponent back-to-back. Last season you had to do it twice, against Fresno State and then against Hawai'i at the end of the season and first game of the WAC tournament. How much does that help in preparation for the kids that went through that last season and the coaching staff?
DS: They're fresh on your mind obviously. You know what worked and what didn't work. A lot of it you have to see how the first game goes. Last year we did it with Fresno State, we had that dreadful game here at the buzzer and we went out there with the intent of really getting after them and it just didn't go well and we got beat 15 or 16. But then when we did it with Hawai'i we struggled the entire game at Hawai'i and then Day Day hit that layup at the end to give us the win and we had to have a defensive stop at the end as well. That was encouraging that we got to end it on our defense and that carried us over to the next game in the tournament where we played them in the first game of the tournament. And that was just a horrible game. Both teams traveling from the island, that was where Madi had 20 points and just really played well and the rest of us really struggled big time. The good thing about that was that Hawai'i struggled even more but I thought we played good defense that game. You've got to learn from the first game but you've always got to be ready to play solid on the defensive end.