bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/30/09

bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Long Beach State game. Before that game we had talked about you wanting your team to come out with the same level of intensity in the second half as they do at the start of the game and in that particular game you did just that opening the half on a 7-0 run and then going on an 18-2 run after that to essentially put the game out of reach.
Darin Spence: This team, we've kind of been both ways. We've started a game well and then didn't do the second half well and then we've had a game where we didn't start well but then played well in the second half. It's been an interesting phenomenon with this group. We're always trying to put longer stretches of quality play together and we're getting closer. Long Beach had a very experienced team and they did things that really made us have to play. They had good size, they're athletic and played pretty well but our kids came out and really brought some energy and found ways to get defensive stops and then to get some easier shots in transition and we ran our offense a little bit better.

bc.net: The North Dakota game was a tough one offensively for you, you only shot 23 percent for the game, but on the positive side of that you only lost by seven points and in years past that would have been a game where your team probably would have lost by 20 points.
DS: Right. That game was just gross for lack of a better word. We were all very disappointed. Our focus and we didn't play with a whole lot of energy. It's one of those things you just never know why. You don't want to think that your team all of the sudden thought that the opponent wasn't good. We as a team aren't good enough to ever enter a game thinking that. North Dakota, we told our team, yeah they hadn't won a game but they had played three tournament teams, they had played three very good teams. I'm not sure what the cause was, it just wasn't our night. We just didn't do a whole lot well. Even on the defensive end we had so many breakdowns. We found ourselves in a position that we never want to be in again. We found ways to get back in the game and we were right there, as poorly as we played in every area of the game, we had a chance. I really hate to keep comparing things to a year ago but last year's team would have gotten beat by 30 that night. The credit goes to our kids for trying to find a way to compete and get back in it. I think in that regard we did learn from things that we did and went through a year ago. We fought back and got back in it and then we just made some mistakes down the stretch. The thing that's been puzzling with this group is we've been too careless with the ball at times. We'd force a tough shot, get a rebound or we'd get a steal then we'd go taking off dribbling behind our back or through our legs in traffic and we'd lose the ball. I think we even had one where we kicked it off our foot or someone else's foot. We just didn't earn the victory that night and North Dakota did.

bc.net: Your team did rebound playing against SIU-Edwardsville, you build up a couple of big leads in that game and then held them off down the stretch.
DS: I was really pleased with how we came back and bounced back and did some good things. We kind of took them out of the game early. Offensively we were a little bit better. We're still not in sync there where we're supposed to be screening and cutting and that'll be a work in progress as we go from game to game. Defensively we were pretty good. We rebounded better. We tinkered around with different lineups, played a lot of kids. We started to play some of our zone. At the end of the first half it kind of went south for us. We lost focus, I think we lost interest. A lot of that is we played too many kids at one point and we were subbing a lot and I think it just broke some rhythm. We allowed them to actually come out in the second half and do some things against us. I thought at that point we were playing not to lose rather than playing to win and that's not just the game but possession by possession. And in the second half we had again way too many careless turnovers where we'd get a stop or we'd get a steal and then we'd come out in transition and cough the ball up for no reason and we just opened the door for a pesky SIU-E team that did some good stuff. But credit our kids who stepped to the line and hit free throws and made plays when we needed plays. I think at that point we're up big and the kids really had their eyeballs towards Michigan, which again is not a good thing to do because we're just not good enough to where we should be doing that, but I think that's the human nature part of it. But we did close it out.

bc.net: The Michigan game was a big win for the team, the first half your team was leading the entire first half and they got a last second three pointer to take the lead at halftime. What did you tell your kids at halftime after being ahead the entire first half?
DS: Even before that shot they hit a couple threes where we didn't guard, we didn't pressure the ball on the shooters like we were supposed to and we gave them a couple threes. Again, it goes back to so many things that we're working on and learning. Competing possession to possession and playing each possession through to its completion is our next task. Halftime, I told them, "This is a great first half, we made our mistakes, we did some good things." And I told them, "If you want to be a part of big time Division I basketball, this is it. That's the atmosphere, that's the competition level." I was proud of our kids that they didn't let that last three pointer that they [Michigan] hit really turn the momentum against us going into the second half. Maybe it's because we were down a couple points at halftime, we came out in the second half and had much focus and energy and played well and fought them off when they made runs and we found a way to keep our runs going. Players just gotta go out and make plays and they did.

bc.net: They took a late lead with 45 seconds left and Jasmine Lowe comes down and hits a big three pointer to give you a one point lead. Your kids were able to then close out that game and that's one that some of your previous teams might not have been able to close out.
DS: No question. This group shows some toughness at times and shows some concentration at times. Obviously that was a good moment in the game to do it. We executed some offense down the stretch. It got to the free throw line. I thought we defended really well. Our whole goal going into that game was to make their big post player be the one to beat us. She's a good player but I just didn't see them using her enough. They put the ball in her hands down the stretch and we forced her into a turnaround jumper that she hadn't shot all night. It proved that what we wanted to do was the right way to attack them. We started rebounding better and Jasmine is a good player and she's just going to get better. She's a transfer that didn't play at all last year. We made the decision to start her just to give her some more energy that night. At our scrimmages we've started her also and played four guards and a lot of the reason is we lost Erica Sanchez who was our starting forward to a knee injury and in the SIU-E game we lost Ashley Scroggins to a knee injury who was our starting center. How many programs in the country can say they lost their two starting post players and then still expect to go have a good year? But we do. We had to overcome it and not hang our heads and find ways to win. That's exactly what we did. We beat a very good Michigan team. Going into that game and I believe this in a lot of games, our guards are as good as anybody's that we're going to see. It's just a matter if we can stay focused, not get bored and we'll really execute and compete. I think us with the ball down the stretch with a chance to win, I like our odds.

bc.net: Where does the win over Michigan stand in importance for your program, you had such a young team last year and this is really their biggest win being in the program.
DS: It's a big win. When people look at the name, it's Michigan, it's a Big 10 team. I think it's the first time any team in our program's history has beaten someone from the Big 10. They're a good Big 10 team, yeah, they're building themselves and trying to get better. Still the idea of beating a Big 10 team and our kids were up for the challenge. Our kids like to play these teams. They like to play the name teams and the good teams and it brings out the best in us. It's a win that we can definitely build on and we will see when we get into practice. We've been talking a lot to this team about never being satisfied and always wanting to do more and not repeating that North Dakota night. We'll see how they are once we get into practice today.

bc.net: Wednesday night you have the first half the in-state rivalry series with New Mexico. How are you approaching that how are you able to use the momentum of this big weekend heading into the UNM game?
DS: I've said this every year that I've been here. Yeah, it's the rival game, but it's a game. It's the seventh game on our schedule. From the outside looking in it should be this huge game that we're putting all our eggs in one basket, but we're really not. My philosophy is you play each of these games first semester and build towards conference play. Sure, the loyal rabid Aggies don't want to hear that because it's UNM, it's the rival game. We know that, I know that, there's nobody that wants to beat them any more than me. I've only beaten them once here. They're a very very good basketball team and they've been that way for 13 or 14 years. They own the overall win-loss record with us, they've beaten us more times even here in our own building.

There's a lot to get ready for. They've got an experienced team back, they're very well coached. I hope this year they don't have more fans in here than we do. But they travel really well, they're loud, they're intelligent basketball fans. They have a really good thing going. Now, having said that. So do we. We're in a position that we're getting better each day. I know this group will get up for this team. We talked about it after the Michigan game, about the rivalry. There's not a whole lot of "like" between the two programs, there's respect but that's about where it stops. It's that game on that Wednesday night and we want to win that game more than anybody realizes.

bc.net: Jasmine Lowe had 24 points in the win over Michigan, a lot of teams hadn't been focusing on her, instead focusing more on Madison, Danisha or Crystal, how much does her performance help your team in that your opponents now have to game plan against Jasmine?
DS: No question. We've known all along that that's what she's capable of. She bring a whole different dimension to our program. She can drive well, she can shoot well, she defends really well. It's just been a matter of her adjusting and being more consistent every day and being better in practice to get used to the level. She's a tough competitor and even though she didn't start the earlier games she never let that affect her play. I told her that morning that she was going to start that night and there was no different excitement in her face, she just went about doing her business. She knows she's gotta bring that energy and toughness to the floor. It does create other issues for our opponents. I believe we have more weapons on the court offensively and defensively with her on the floor and with Kaitlyn Soto on the floor, we just have to keep growing as a team. When people try to guard Madison too much or try to guard Day Day too much, we have other now that have the experience and some knowledge of how to apply their abilities to the game. Even Crystal Boyd who hasn't played for a year is getting better each day. Her bad stretches are a lot shorter now than they were in the first four or five games. Everybody is getting better, our inside people are learning and improving. We're not as one dimensional as we were a year ago by any means.

bc.net: You're a defensive minded coach and you preach deflections, how is your team doing in terms of deflections at this point early in the season?
DS: For most of our games, we've played six, in probably five of the games we've done fairly well. We're still not where we need to be as far as defensive field goal percentage and points the other teams are scoring. But at the the same time our offense is better. When we're scoring a little quicker the other team gets more possessions as well so the point total you have to adjust. But we need to be better, our defensive field goal percentage is going down, that's something we just have to keep working on. Our defensive rebounding has to get a lot better. That game against Edwardsville when we lost focus, we gave them way too many offensive rebounds. I think we only gave Michigan four offensive rebounds and those were all in the first half I think. Each area is getting better. We're deflecting a lot of balls, I do believe in deflections moreso than steals but of course you do get steals and we're getting a lot more steals this year. We're third in the WAC in steals, every other year we've been 7th, 8th or 9th. Our activity level is what I like. Our positioning is getting better and if we keep our defensive rebounding getting better, I think we're going to turn into a good defensive team this year.