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 road split, the last three games of the season including Thursday night's game against Utah State, and offensive efficiency.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Hawai'i game?
Darin Spence: I was disappointed in how we started. I think our first four possessions were turnovers, not just that they were turnovers but we threw the ball everywhere but where it should have been. It kind of got us back on our heels. We've always been concerned about our shot selection and turnovers early in road games. It just wasn't the greatest start. But we held, we competed, we took the lead and it was a game we should have won. That's why it still kind of stings, knowing we let that one get away. Day Day didn't play. We suited her up but I just didn't want to put her in and hurt her knee any worse. Starting Brittany Palmer in her place, that was going to be something different right there to get used to. Then having Niki hurt her knee in the game was real disappointing as well. All in all it wasn't a very good trip over there.
bc.net: Your thoughts on the San Jose State game, finally breaking through on the road and what does that mean for the final road trip and also the WAC tournament?
DS: Well I was pleased with how we responded because I got on them pretty good after the Hawai'i game. We bounced back and responded really well and played some of our best basketball of the year at San Jose. It's a tough place to play, it's a quiet building, we actually had more fans there than they did. It's a team that's at the bottom of the league so it would have been real easy to not get up for that one and go through the motions but we didn't do that. We had to play without Niki with her knee injury knocking her out, and it was all in all a good team effort. We defended really well, rebounded and found ways to score. It was a good game.
It'll give us some confidence knowing that now we can win on the road but our next game is at Fresno State and that's a whole different level there. But it was a good game, a good win for us.
bc.net: Your team seemed to have a really good energy level in that game which can be difficult when coming off the back side of that Hawai'i trip.
DS: Part of that was just the players being disappointed in the Hawai'i game. We did not, the players, and this is what we talked about after the Hawai'i game and why I was so upset with them, their focus was, I don't know where it was going into the game on game day. We had two really good days of practice over there in Hawai'i leading up to the game, but come game day, I saw it during the shootaround earlier that day, for some reason we had it on two practice days but not that day. I think the players were really disappointed in themselves for that effort.
We didn't practice at all the day before the San Jose State game. We flew over there, we rested, we let them sleep most of the day, we watched tape, we went to dinner and we had a pretty energetic shootaround that day and their focus was just so much better. I know they were fatigued and we were down a player with Niki being hurt. We played Day Day but she wasn't herself so there were quite a few things they had to fight through. I just think when this team really focuses on being good, this team can be really good.
bc.net: Playing without Niki, Kelsie Rozendaal picked up a lot of those minutes and had a great game grabbing nine rebounds and scoring six points, Tabytha Wampler led with 13 points and Erica Sanchez had eight points and six rebounds. With the absence of Niki, Day Day not being able to produce like she normally does and Madison going 3-13 from the field, your young post players really stepped up.
DS: They did, they did a really good job. When Erica just catches and shoots the ball she's a pretty solid player. She makes mistakes sometimes of throwing up hook shots that don't have a chance of going in. Kelsie's pretty skilled, smart player, got a real high basketball IQ, she's a scorer that's now stepping forward and really developing. And Tabytha wasn't in foul trouble, she was early but she did a great job of playing with two fouls in the first half. We put her back in and she did some good things. Then she was really good in the second half and we did a much better job of playing through her. And also Cindy, another freshman, big kid, big body. She's a good rebounder, she made her free throws, had an offensive rebound and a layup off that. She's kind of the next one in line to Niki's spot.
You're talking about a sophomore and three freshmen and they responded and all did a good job for us.
bc.net: Your team has probably the toughest three game final stretch of any of the teams playing Utah State, Fresno State on the road and then Louisiana Tech. You still have a chance to finish .500 in league, what is the team talking about and do you look at yourselves as spoilers maybe because you play Fresno State and Louisiana Tech and both of them are battling for the regular season title.?
DS: We haven't really talked about that at all. We talked about finishing the season as strong as possible in that last eight game stretch. We've won three of our last four and we're playing better.
At the time we started talking about that eight game stretch, we didn't know Day Day would get hurt, we didn't know Niki would get hurt, we didn't know Tyshae had a busted knuckle that if she would let them x-ray it they would put it in a cast, the doctor wouldn't let that go, so she refuses to get x-rayed. Brittany Palmer just jammed her finger, may have done something to it just like Tyshae. So we didn't anticipate any of those issues.
But no, we haven't talked about being a spoiler, all we've talked about is playing our best basketball and moving forward. From a coaching standpoint we know we have our hands full, Utah State's playing with a lot of confidence right now, we feel we can beat them, we let them go on a run at Utah State and pull ahead of us, we didn't quite play like we can against them. That's the first one.
Then at Fresno is going to be a tough test. That one you just kind of see what you can do. We've beaten them before and if we can continue to match up well with them like we did here then who knows.
Then La. Tech coming back home, they're sitting a half game out of first and they're as good as anybody right now. They're playing well, they're defending well, they're good on the offensive end. But it's a home game. Regardless of what happens we're going to the playoffs, I think we're safe to not be in the play-in game. Right now it's play as well as we can in these last three and then go to Reno and see what happens. The biggest thing is we want to play well and finish up as strong as we can these last three
bc.net: Tomorrow night's game against Utah State, they are playing well, they picked up two very good wins this past weekend beating Boise State and Idaho. You played them in the very first road trip of the conference season and so a lot has changed with your team since that first meeting. How do you think you match up with them now versus that first meeting?
DS: Four days ago I would have said we match up better. But it's on our floor, we've played fairly well all year long here. I know we'll come out here and be excited. I don't know if the depth will catch up to us at some point in time. They're a big team, they start two big kids, they have three solid guards that play for them. If we can come out and get going right from the beginning and make shots and defend solidly, and keep Danyelle Snelgro, their guard, out of the lane, then I think we'll be okay and we'll have a chance to win the game. I know we'll play hard and compete, we'll just have to see how the game goes as it unfolds.
bc.net: The last six games, aside from a couple of halves, your team has shot the ball extremely well and particularly on these last two road games where that had been a problem for you on the road finding a way to put the ball in the basket. Do you feel like the team has really started to grasp on to how to run the offense and particularly your offense is set up out of your defense because they've also played defense very well.
DS: No question. And the two have been going hand in hand. We haven't let our early turnovers or poor shot selection affect how we play on the defensive end the past few games. We've been pretty solid at both ends, we've started to rebound better. We're recognizing when the open shot is there regardless of who it's for. I think the players have really focused in on how the other teams are guarding Madison. They're not coming off of her, she has shot very few uncontested open shots, it's been tough for her. She's not shooting the ball very well from the three point line but that's because she's got people hanging on her. But what that's done is it's opened up the inside. Tabytha's starting to be a lot more productive inside, the team's really starting to recognize what's there, what's not there. They're all growing together.
Aside from that game at Hawai'i, we've shot our free throws well. And even the game at Hawai'i, as poorly as we feel we played, if we'd have just made our free throws close to what we'd been all year long we would have won that game two.
I just think it's a team that's been growing together each day and not bad right now for playing one senior and nine sophomores and freshmen. Aside from Tyshae, we've got a junior college level team in the age. It's been an interesting growth process.
I've said from day one, this team works hard, they've found ways to get together, pull together. I've seen us getting better each and every day for the past month. We feel pretty good, I think we're the most positive 9-18 team in the country. They know what they've done well and what they can do well. It's just a matter of staying focused and going out and producing.