bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/04/10

bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the game against N.M. Highlands, you went in with a 10-point lead at halftime but then put together one of your best defensive performances in a half and they didn't make a field goal until there was 4:35 left in the game.
Darin Spence: When we went into halftime of that game we weren't upset with how we played in the first half but we just thought something was missing. Of course human nature, you have a little letdown because you're not playing an opponent who you think is at a higher level. We talked about that at halftime and we just discussed the idea that what we're doing now is going to help prepare us to play for a WAC title down the road and so it's all connected. The kids did a really good job of playing in the second half and playing more to our identity which is our team defense and making people play defense on the other end and moving the ball. I thought we took a huge step forward in that game and just kind of pulled away. Of course the talent level is different but Highlands they do some good things, they're gonna to win some games in their league with the way they play. I thought they battled and just kind of ran out of gas.

bc.net: Yesterday you hosted No. 21 Kansas and it was a huge opportunity for your team and in the first half you didn't let them get out of reach in the first five to 10 minutes of the games and you really started to force them to play your kind of game.
DS: I noticed that when our players are really on top of things we've got a chance to be pretty good on both sides of the ball in all aspects of the game. Kansas made the choice that they were going to guard tight and they were going to stay tight on Madison and Danisha and they were not going to let them be the scorers. So that left of course Crystal and Jasmine and Tabytha one-on-one with their defenders and they did a good job of shooting good shots. Of course sometimes Crystal gets carried away with some of her shot selection but she did a very very good job of taking good shots and of course she made them. But she also played very good defense and she rebounded defensively and that kind of fueled her energy on the offensive end. Jasmine got in early foul trouble and picked up some interesting calls so she didn't play quite as much in the first half and we went back to Madison playing the point in a long stretch towards the middle and end of the first half and we just did a good job of recognizing who was scoring and played against their pressure. I just thought we battled really well defensively, we rebounded okay, good enough. I just think our kids are starting to understand where to be defensively and how to help and recover and we just took a big big step forward. We weren't in awe of them and we battled toe-to-toe.

bc.net: That first half by Crystal, how much extra motivation do you think she might have had being a former Big 12 player and wanting to go out and show that she was still that same player that was recruited out of high school.
DS: I'm sure that had a lot to do with it. She probably wouldn't tell you that. But when you're highly recruited and you're at that level and of course it doesn't work out and you get a second chance there's that chip on your shoulder and you're always trying to prove to people that you are good. When she plays within her abilities and within the framework of what we're trying to do as a team and she goes out and defends first and scores second, boy she's good. She's got a chance to be as good as anybody in the country and she's figuring that out. She knows all those kids on that Kansas team and she's played against them and I think that was a huge challenge for her.

bc.net: The first half Kansas had 10 offensive rebound an in the second half your team did a much better job of limiting them to one possession on each trip down. What adjustments did you make at the half?
DS: Well we just talked about how we had to step our level up on the rebounding and we can't let them just jump over us. I told them that with the exception of one kid, they weren't that much bigger than us. It was just a matter of recognizing that and pushing them back farther out from underneath the basket and I think we forced them into some tougher shots and that took them out of position to rebound as well. The players went out and did the work. That's no real secret to that, they just went out and did the work. The other thing is I think we just committed three turnovers in the second half. That was huge in a game like that against a team like that where the possessions are low and you've really got to take care of the ball and not have unforced turnovers and I think we held them to 17 points under their season average.

bc.net: You held Kansas 17 points under their season average and 100 percentage points under their season field goal shooting average.
DS: It takes a while and I've said this before, defensively what we do is a little different because we try to push the ball to certain areas on the floor and we rotate. We do a lot of NBA style stuff that's a lot different than the type of stuff kids do in high school and junior college and it takes time to learn it to get together and then to trust each other onthe floor. Kansas got really one dimensional down the stretch. Either McCray or Morris were going to score, it was going to be one of the two. Day Day and Madi did a great job of defending them, Tabytha did an excellent job of helping them and then Crystal slid over and helped her and so it all worked together. They were shooting the ball in areas of the floor that they hadn't been used to which I think it affected their production, their rebounding positioning and it just showed our team is growing up.

The other thing is we all sat over there at one of the latter media timeouts and saw they got tired. I don't know if it was the altitude or just because they weren't as mentally prepared as they thought they needed to be for us. They got tired and that had an effect on them missing free throws and those jump shots as well. What played into our hands is they got really one dimensional it was either Morris or McCray so we'd run two people at them to help and if they had maybe picked the ball up and threw it into Boogaard in the post she might have had a six foot shot. But they didn't do that. I just think all-in-all it was our team growing up and understanding how to defend and how to play better with each other.

bc.net: You've mentioned numerous times that there's no trophy that gets handed out for non-conference play but reflect back on your non-conference season. You've got 10 wins heading into WAC play and you have four of the league's better victory with wins over UTEP, Michigan and Kansas.
DS: What's interesting looking at RealTimeRPI.com, they have our RPI at 55 right now. That formula is going to help us as we go. Not only did we play Michigan and Kansas but we beat them and then the way the formula works we're going to get points off of who they play and also off of New Mexico's opponents and it's going to help keep our RPI up there. We as a program in non-conference, we've done everything we needed to do to help us down the road. Now we have to take care of business in conference play and I'm talking about postseason and putting ourselves in a position to play postseason and maybe get an at-large bid. The bad thing is we are going to help every WAC school when they play us just because we're 55 RPI and Boise State is at 81 and everybody else is below that. Everybody that plays us is going to get plus points and we're going to go down even if we win. We've got to make sure we take care of business and really be competitive and win WAC games to stay in that hunt for postseason. Of course we want to win it outright and if we win a regular season WAC title we'll for sure get a WNIT bid. But we want to play postseason. That's a huge goal of ours this season. We've done all we can do non-conference. The question is when we get through with these next 16 games and we enter in with a 55 RPI is that going to hold up and be high enough to really help us even though we've got some quality wins? What we can't do is sit back and wait for others to help us. We've got to take care of our own business and go out and keep winning games.

bc.net: On Wednesday you open up league play on the road against Boise State. This rivalry you've developed with Boise State has been good, six of the 11 games have been decided by six points or less and three of those have gone to overtime. How do you maintain that momentum you have generated in the non-conference and particularly with this win over Kansas and avoid having a letdown on Wednesday?
DS: When we went into the locker room last night, our kids know me well enough that I'm not going to let anything slide. As a coaching staff we were in here watching tape, in here early this morning watching it. Last night in the locker room we said what we needed to say about the Kansas game and then I started drawing up on the board the formula for the WAC conference play. Who we needed to sweep, who we could afford to split with, all those kind of things we just laid it all out there. We talked about what we've done like we just talked about with our non-conference stuff. I don't hide anything from our players. We tell them these are teams you're supposed to beat so we need to go out so we need to go out and be mature enough and handle that and prepare.

Boise has a very very good team. They have all those kids back who are fifth and sixth year seniors. They have a lot of experience and I think they're the one team that people are just forgetting about. Everybody's on this La. Tech and Fresno bandwagon and I'm sitting here thinking Boise State is probably the best team in the league. They've got the most experience, the most scorers, depth. I'm excited that we're starting there. We're on the road and it's another one of those swing away games. It's one that we're not supposed to win. So if we can go in there and hang around and be there at the end like we were two years ago we'll have a chance to be successful up there. Our kids know that we don't like Boise and Boise doesn't like us. That's a well known fact. They have a kid, guard from Wichita, Kan. a freshman that we recruited, she decided to go there over us and it's those little things that poke at you, little reminders. Our kids will be ready to play. Once that game's over win or lose, that's not it. We've got to turn right around and we have to at home with Hawai'i and Fresno. We've got to take care of those home games. You've got to win all eight home games and at worst try to split those eight road games and you'll be in the hunt to win the WAC title.

We'll lay out the plan for each and every opponent. I like our conference schedule. We've got one game shots with everybody and you can really focus one team and then turn your attention to another. On paper right now I like how we've gone to this mostly Wednesday/Saturday deals and we'll see how it plays out from here.

I think we really match up really well with Boise. I just started watching them on tape today, it's the first I've looked at them all year and I think we match up well with them. We'll go up there and see what happens.

bc.net: One of their top two scorers, Tasha Harris, sat out last year with an injury but you're very familiar with her, she's one of those seniors. What kind of impact has she had for their team beyond just the scoring?
DS: She makes them go. She's got the ball in her hands a lot. She's going to run the show. She kind of dominates the ball when she's in transition, you've got to stop her because she's going to take it all the way to the basket. She's a scorer, she's got a scorer's mentality, she's going to shoot first and pass second. She's a solid defender. She's just got a ton of experience as well and has played at a high level in our league. She's seen everything you can throw at her and you've just got to be solid with her and not let her go crazy on you scoring-wise and just make her work for everything.

They also have Jessica Thompson, it's Van Hoogen now, she got married, she's the same type of player. Those two have been there, their one-two punch for what seems like 10 years, they've been there forever. But the other side of it is, we know going in defensively that when it gets down to it, those are the only two that are going to shoot and sometimes that's their downfall. The times that we've beaten them we've been able to lock in and defend just those two and they've become a little selfish at times and they want to score and it can play against you. Whereas you look at our group right now, if you guard two of us we've got three others who can step up and score. I like having that balance. But there's no question that Tasha is one of the best in this league.

bc.net: On Saturday you return home and host Hawai'i. They're 6-7 entering conference play and have been, maybe not a big surprise, but they haven't been very good the last two or three years and they seem to have turned things around under their new head coach.
DS: Yeah, they're doing a good job. They've got a new lease on life and some new energy in their program. Our strength of schedule right now is 69 and theirs is 83 so they've played some good teams. Most of them have been on their home floor in their tournaments but they've played some good teams. They beat a Big 12 team, Kansas State at a tournament on a neutral floor. Kansas State is really down this year but it's still a Big 12 school. Down for them still is pretty good for us. They've got some wins and they've got kids who have been there a couple years now and are figuring each other out. It's one of those games that it's at home and you've got to take care of your home games and you've got to be ready to play. That's why I say win or lose at Boise, we've got to turn around and play that game. It's just like before the Kansas game. We told our players that win or lose this game, it's not the end of the season. We've got to turn around and go play the next game and then the next game after that and after that. One of the things we've always done is talk about the task at hand and staying very focused on that game. After Hawai'i we turn around and we've got Fresno at home. It doesn't get any easier and when conference rolls around people are familiar with each other and you kind of know tendencies of players and what sets they're going to run. The scoring might go down, the possessions might go down but it's going to be some fun nights in the arena.

bc.net: Your three freshmen, Camila Rosen, Malia Magazzeni and Chrissy Fletcher are really giving you some quality minutes and from the beginning of the non-conference to yesterday they seem to have made some really big strides that maybe most freshmen don't make in that first 14 games.
DS: No question. I love those three kids, they come to work every day. Believe me, I am on them like nobody's business because I see the potential in them and it's just like all our players, I refuse to let any of them settle for being a bench player or being a so-called scrub. Their minutes that they give us are very important, they add to our depth. If we would have had Chrissy and Malia last year we would have been much better. Camila's played at a high level and been one of the best players in her program and her league. Coming off that knee injury she's slowly but surely getting her bounce back. She gave us really good minutes against Kansas. She's a very good defender, she understands where to go. As she gets more comfortable and gets her bounce back her scoring is going to come back. Chrissy and Malia are just very active post defenders and rebounders right now that are starting to figure it out. They give us some size, they run the floor well and they accept the fact that they're supposed to go in and play solid defense and rebound. Now Chrissy is starting to figure out how to score a little bit and get shots but each day that goes by they're just starting to get better and better.