Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 02/17/09 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 home victories, the status of Danisha Corbett and the team's road trip to Hawai'i and San Jose State. Coming off two heartbreaking losses against Boise State and Idaho, you go down 7-0 to Nevada, you call a timeout, climb back in it a little and then all of the sudden you look up and it's 27-10. At that point, given the way the season had kind of gone, there's every reason for the kids to fold up tent but they didn't. They fought back, got the lead late and were able to hold on for the big 54-51 victory. Talk about the resiliency of this team.
Darin Spence: No question. Going in to that game the way that we had lost the two games before, I was a little nervous going into it because I didn't know which way we would go after two real gut wrenching games. To get down like that especially against Nevada, it wasn't like it was one of the other mid-level teams. Nevada is still in my opinion the best team in the league. For us to fight back and make the adjustments coming out of the second half and keep battling, it just shows a lot of our growth and how we've matured along the way. I've said this before, we've been getting better even though we haven't won the games. We've been getting better. From a defensive standpoint I saw us really start to put it together during the second half of the Nevada game because we weren't real good defensively in the first half. I saw a lot of growth defensively. And the way we defend whether it's our man or our zone is a lot different than what a lot of people do so it takes a long time. Our teams in the past, each year those kids got older and then last year with our experience we were really good defensively. It takes some time to get used to. Now with such a young team it has taken time. I was proud of our kids. Just to be able to have the game in our hands with our defense to make a last stop. Yeah we fouled the girl and she missed the free throw. We had a chance to do it with our defense, she missed the free throw so our defense held and came through. I was really proud of our kids.

Then going into the next game with Hawai'i, your fourth game after three tough games, I was probably more nervous for that one than I was the other three just because I didn't know if we had enough in the tank. We played some lethargic basketball at times but we had enough spurts in us to come out with the win. Going back to your team's defense, in the last two games against Nevada in the second half, you hold them to two field goals in the last 11 minutes up in Reno and then Friday night you hold them to three field goals in the last 11 minutes. What is it about the way they play that allows you to really clamp down on them?
DS:I think they rely so much on their guard play but then they're also trying to be a little bit more balanced also and I think they just get real tentative. I think their history is that at the end of the year they've always just kind of hit a skid. They've got so many kids who are that in their third or fourth year that have been through that. I just think at this time of year it hits them and even though they've won so many games they also have that "Oh no, here we go again." I think this game is such a big matchup game. I think we match up fairly well with them. I just think they have a case of some psychological demons as well, they start playing not to lose rather than playing to win. I also think their over aggressive play all season long finally catches up with them. But that's not to say that they can turn around the next two or three weeks from now and win the whole thing. The Hawai'i game you get outrebounded by nine but win by 12.
DS:I know some coaches think that if you're always in the top end of the rebounds you'll win the game, I don't necessarily agree with that. I always go back to the fact that you just need to score one more point than the other team. However you gotta do it. We always talk about 40 minutes plus and whatever it takes, as long as it takes. If you're out rebounded but you force more turnovers and get more points off the turnovers that balances it all out in my opinion. If a team gets a high number of offensive rebounds, if they're not scoring on them, yeah you don't want them to get those extra shots, but if they're still not scoring then it's not as big a deal as what you might think. If we're shooting a high percentage we won't have a lot of offensive rebounds, if they're shooting a low percentage then they'll have more opportunities and same with us if we're not shooting well. You'd like to get every missed shot from a defensive rebounding standpoint but I'm still not convinced that's the biggest area of the game. Madison had 20 in each game, Kaitlyn had 17 in the Nevada game, Danisha had 18 in the Hawai'i game before going down with an injury. Talk about their play and what is Danisha's status for the weekend.
DS:Madi, I've seen her basketball IQ really improve over the last four game. We talked a while ago about how her three point shooting percentage isn't as good as it should be but then if you look at how she's being defended, they're not coming off her at all. They're right up in her. So what's she's doing is she's adjusted her game, she's shooting a lot of midrange, she's done a lot of driving in the lane. For years I've been telling her even back to her high school days, she's taller, she's a bigger guard, just get in the lane and jump in the air and shoot it. Don't try to change your shot. The last couple games she's done a lot better job of that. The guards are a lot smaller than her, even if they do block the shot, big deal. Just get in the lane, jump over them and shoot it. Use what you have which is your length and your size. I thought she did a good job of that, not overpassing once she got in there. And that'll start loosening up her three point shooting when they start playing her to drive more.

Kaitlyn is just an aggressive go-getter. She forces the action and she's shooting the ball pretty well and getting fouled. She just gives us another look out there. I think we're really good when Kaitlyn and Madi are together because you don't know which one is going to drive and which one is going to shoot. As Kaitlyn has learned who the throw the ball to and when to throw it to them, she's gotten a lot better.

Day Day is just so explosive and can do a lot of things. As she matures even into next year she's going to be darned good before she gets out of here. With her knee there's no damage, MRI was good. Just some bruising on the bone and some swelling. She was walking up and down in practice, actually shot some free throws today. But she did that at the Long Beach State game and then the next two games afterwards she wasn't real effective in the tournament in San Diego. We've still got to take this long trip to Hawai'i, what's going to happen to it when she get up in the airplane and how it will swell up or not. I'm hoping we can have her for sure Sunday but I think she'll be ready to go Friday. If not we'll adjust, maybe start Brittany because she's started already, that way we don't disrupt Kaitlyn's role coming off the bench. That way we don't have two point guards to start the game on the floor but we'll see how it goes. Niki Holt in the game against Nevada had the rare block/rebound double-double. Talk about her play and that of Tyshae Walton. Have you noticed any change in their demeanor as the season has started winding down and they start realizing that this is it for them?
DS:Yeah, no question. We always talk about how enthusiasm in the basketball season is really high at the beginning and then at the tail end if you have a team that has a chance at the end then the enthusiasm picks back up. I think that's where we are right now. I can see it in both Niki and Tyshae, they're trying to be better leaders. It's taken them a year to figure that out as well which is a new role for a couple players. In Niki's case, she's been healthy. If you stop and look back, had she been healthy in the early part of her career, she might have been doing this a year or two ago. She's just accepted what her role is, she's defending and changing shots and blocking them and now just scratching the surface to what she can do and how good she can be.

Tyshae's starting to make some shots, her shot selection is getting better and she's stepping into that third scorer role that we really need. I think both of them have slowly figured out what to say and when to say it and they're improving their leadership skills. Up next you have a road trip Hawai'i and then San Jose. How much growth have you seen from the time you got back two weeks ago and played the Idaho schools and then this weekend getting the two wins and translating that into taking that next step and winning on the road?
DS:I think we're much better prepared to go do it on the road this time. Just being at practice today, just being around the kids and then watching game tape afterwards, just what they were talking about and just their demeanor is a whole lot different. Now they really believe they can go on the road and be successful. Maybe it's because we've beaten these two teams here, but again those were home games and you still have to do it on the road. Sometimes your first road win could be at the most unlikely place, which could be the long trip to Hawai'i. I've said it before, if we can get that first road win I think that light turns on for us and we can be very very dangerous coming down that stretch run and going into the tournament. We have a little adversity going out there not knowing what Day Day is going to do but it'll prepare us better for the tournament.

If you look at the league race I think we can still finish as high as third. I don't know if we can get much higher than that, if we win out that would put us at nine wins. But I think moreso than where we finish it's just getting some momentum going into the tournament. No matter who you play I don't think there's a huge difference in who you play other than Nevada, you probably don't want to play them in the first round on their floor probably but other than that I don't think it matters who you play. Last season you talked a lot with the team about the big picture, how much have you talked about the big picture with this year's group because there really isn't a whole lot of difference between No. 1 and No. 7 as is evidenced by these last four games that you played and also Nevada losing two at home and they're hosting the tournament.
DS:We went into the Idaho game, I think we had eight left to play for the year. I drew it all up on the board, who we played, where we played them and we talked about how we're on an eight game schedule. We're 2-1 now on that eight game schedule and we have five left to play. All we've got to do is finish strong in these eight games. They were able to see it. It was probably the first time I've done it with this team all year long. I did it a lot with the team a year ago, I think a lot of it has to do with the maturity of the team that you have and this group never were ready to do that. Now we've got nothing to lose, we're playing it out and trying to finish as strong as we can for the tournament.