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 the last two regular season games, the WAC tournament matchup with Louisiana Tech and postseason awards.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Fresno State game on Thursday?
Darin Spence: We started very slowly and dug a hole and just couldn't get into an offensive rhythm in the first half and the rest of the night we played catch up. We're down big at halftime and it's hard to fight back from. But the second half was really good, I thought we came out of halftime and played tough and played a lot more inspired. It's not that Fresno let down but we picked our level up which was encouraging. We answered in the second half and really put some good minutes together. Our two point guards Madison and Kaitlyn didn't have the best of nights and when that happens it doesn't allow you to get into a flow. The game was pretty choppy but I was pleased with how we fought back in the second half.
bc.net: In that second half you went on a pretty good run and got the lead down to around 13 points and then maybe a key play in the game, one of your players got fouled and it should have been an and one, instead you're taking the ball out from underneath the basket.
DS: Yeah, we've had some interesting situations this year. The unfortunate thing is the way the game is being called this year is we're seeing very little consistency from one game to the next game. It's hard as a coach and it's hard as a player. Traveling isn't being called at all this year, we saw that against La. Tech, their post players traveled some. But we've seen continuation calls that the play you're talking about should have been the same thing. So you don't get points out of that and it kind of halted our run. I thought we had some spurts in the second half and actually we out scored them 30-27 in the second half and I think that's what allowed us to pick ourselves up and play well in the following game against La. Tech.
bc.net: And in the Lousiana Tech game, Madison Spence was coming off a one point game against Fresno State. Came out and looked the most aggressive I've seen her play this season.
DS: The day before which was Friday, after practice and after we watched film we gave Madi the Kent State game to watch. I said, "that's the player we need to see." The last four, five, six games she's been getting everybody's best defensive effort. Everybody's been gearing up towards her and so she became tenative and she can't do that for us now. Right now she can't do that, she's gotta score points. She's gotta have a little bit more Allen Iverson mentality to her. Obviously watching that game she came back against La. Tech and had no fear, no worries and was really aggressive. Shot the ball, drove the ball and did it against a lot of hand checking and holding and I was really pleased and proud of how she responeded and came back in that game.
bc.net: Your team jumped out to a 15 point lead at 29-14, La. Tech went on a 13-2 run but you finished out the half strong and took a four point lead into halftime.
DS: We really came out and did some good things. La. Tech is a really good team. They're athletic, they're physical, they do a lot of good things and obviously they have a lot of confidence now. We were very aggressive offensively and defensively we positioned ourselves well and just had a good balance and good rhythm. We did hit a late, about into the five or four minute mark, we had about seven straight possessions where we scored on one of the seven possessions and had two free throws. We took some bad shots and that was what created their run and so we lost a little momentum there even though we had the lead at the half. We kind of started the second half off a little slow but at the same time we're fighting some foul trouble. Keslie Rozendaal hurt her ankle, she was playing very well. It just kind of took some wind out of our sails. But after that beginning of the second half we fought back and showed a lot of toughness the rest of the night.
bc.net: You were able to get their 10 point lead down to three on a couple of occasions and you were battle having Tabytha foul out with about seven minutes to go, Erica Sanchez fouled out with three minutes to go, so you were battling basically that last stretch with no post players against a pretty big La. Tech team.
DS: Right and the group of guards that were in with Madison being our tallest player and Tyshae and Day Day and Brittany Palmer and Kaitlyn Soto, offensively we tried to spread them out, we drove a lot, we threw it out. We found some ways to score. Defensively we worked hard, but they just had the size advantage. Then later it worked in our advantage because we were fouling them right away. I made the decision to make the game as long as possible, hopefully they'd miss free throws. It worked for a while and then they made some and they did what they needed to do to finish it off and close out with a win. We tell our players all the time that the good teams will find a way to win. And the teams that have been struggling will find a way to keep struggling. So it's kind of been our battle and that's our task as we move forward into the tournament. We need to find a way to limit those dry runs that we have during the game and be a little bit more productive.
bc.net: Up next you do have the rematch against Louisiana Tech. It is hard to beat a team three times in a season and with the way that your team played on Saturday night, do you think that maybe in the back of La. Tech's mind you planted that seed of doubt because now they know you can put it on them because you showed that you could do it in the first half.
DS: No question. If you're good and you're better than the team then you should beat them three times, four times, five times... But I'm not so sure that's the case. We just fight some inexperience at the wrong time. But really not so much what La. Tech's kids think but what ours think. Ours know that if we just limit some of the bad moments that we'll have a chance to win the game. It's a neutral court game, we've played two neutral court games out in San Diego. All of our kids have had success in tournament play whether it's their high school or here with us so it's a new season.
Tournament play affects kids differently. Sometimes if you're the top team you start playing not to lose when you start missing shots. If a team like us goes in there and you're making things early and things go our way, it could be a long night. So we're sitting in a good spot. We know we have a tough test in La. Tech because they're awfully good, playing with a lot of confidence right now. But we're going to go in there and swing away and if we can make some early shots, the last three years we've come out in all of our first games and shot the three point shot really well. But that was more of our strength the last few years where as this year our strength isn't so much our three point shooting as it is our driving and getting fouled. We want to do that but we also want to get Tabytha a little bit more involved so we can draw some fouls on La. Tech's kids. If we can get Kelsie back healthy and off her ankle injury, if Niki can give us a couple minutes, I think we'll be ready to go. We'll go out, let it loose and run around and as we call it, "Run, shoot and holler" and see what happens.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the three players that earned postseason honors. Madison Spence was named Second Team All-WAC. And then you had two freshmen, Tabytha Wampler and Kaitlyn Soto named to the All-Freshman team which is indicative of the way this team is built.
DS: Madison has had a really good year. She's scored, she's fought some illnesses off and has really had a pretty good year. She's learned how to run a team, her teammates have done a really good job around her as well. They've all grown together. She's fought off frustration, getting everyone's best effort and she's found ways to play pretty solid basketball.
I'm really pleased with Tabytha and Kaitlyn being on the All-Freshman team. They're only the fourth and fifth freshmen [in Aggie history] and to have two in one year, as you said, it just shows we're playing a lot of young kids and it just shows that our future into next year and the year after on down the road, we've got some good young kids ready to take this program to a higher level.
bc.net: Those awards are voted on by the coaches so you're getting a lot of respect from the fellow coaches.
DS: Right. They know that Kaitlyn's had some really good games, Tabytha's been really solid, probably hasn't had the explosive games that Tabytha's had but she's just been a constant force in there. You see teams double down on her when she catches and both of those two have a lot of respect from the coaches and they've earned that. And that's not to say that the sophomores, Day Day, Erica Sanchez, Brittany Palmer haven't done their part too, it just says that we're playing freshmen and sophomores which excites me as we look ahead into next year and the year after.
bc.net: And you've also got maybe one of the best players that's come through your program redshirting this season in Crystal Boyd.
DS: No question. Crystal transferred in from Texas, she brings just a whole different level of competitiveness, basketball IQ. Now, we've gotta be real careful not to anoint her the best thing since sliced bread but she adds just a level of toughness to our team that we haven't had in my time here. She's a kid that can play for money. She's hard to guard, she can shoot it, she can drive, she defends, she's very very tough. When Tyshae graduates we'll insert Crystal into that position and it gives us more size, a better athlete, somebody who's been in the NCAA tournament and has played BIg XII basketball and was the 6th ranked player in the country coming out of her high school. I know she's learned a lot by watching and she's earned the respect of her teammates and when we get to that point she'll be ready to step in and help us out.