bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the past two games against Idaho and Utah State?
Darin Spence: In some areas we've improved. I think the biggest area we needed to improve on was just fighting through some down times in games and not letting a poor defensive possession affect our offensive possession and vice versa, not let a letdown on the offensive end create problems down on our defensive end and it's been a work in progress all year long. I just think that maturity can cure that, playing experience with each other. I think slowly but surely we're turning the corner and seeing improvements in that area. It was obvious when we came out in the second half against Utah State. I think we just hit a whole other level and took them out of some things they wanted to run and offensively we executed better, got better shots and we scored which is always going to allow you to shoot a better field goal percentage. We've seen some promising play down the stretch. The Idaho game before that, we should have won that one but we made some mistakes there, mostly that was some shooting percentage and free throw things. Overall I think we're playing much better now and it's the time of the year you want to do it. It's an exciting time. We've got two regular season games left and we go into the tournament. It's right there in front of us.
bc.net: The past couple of seasons you've talked about this being the time of the season that you're more hands off in your approach with the kids and last season you couldn't really do that with such a young group. Are you able to take that approach more this season?
DS: It's a lot easier right now to do that with this team. Last year's team there was no way. Two years ago it was easy to do because we had all those older kids. Right now we've got a group of players that know what they're supposed to be doing. They've been working really hard on trying to make those improvements in those areas to not have those setbacks during games. We've had probably some of our better practices of the year in the last few days. We've had some time off since the Utah State game and before this Nevada game that we've taken advantage of. I've seen us improve and we've found a way to have some fun in practice. Sunday afternoon we had a really good practice and did some crazy things like playing four on five and five on six and just trying to get them to learn more and just to be able to execute under some chaotic situations. They were really competitive and I think we're hitting a level now that we can put some wins together.
bc.net: On Wednesday night you take on Nevada in Reno. In the first half of the first meeting with them your team showed that you can not only beat them but if you're playing your game you can be dominant. What do you hope to be able to do on Wednesday?
DS: Nevada is a really good team. They bring some challenges to the table, they're really athletic, they have good experience, good inside game, good guards. Their depth is much improved and they're that team that is finishing higher than what people thought they would. They're well coached and they do some good things. In that game, the first half of the game with Nevada, we played well on both sides of the ball and were really efficient. I think they didn't play their best and I think that had a lot to do with it but then it was a tale of two halves. It was just the opposite coming out in the second half. Not so much that we played poorly, we just didn't get the same level of defensive effort that we got in the first half of the game. I know that sometimes that's hard to do but if you want to be a team that plays at a high level you've got to be able to do that. Some of our issues reared their ugly head, this group needing to be a lot more committed into getting defensive stops. That's where it all starts and stops with us today. It's not a game we have to win, it's a game we can win and we've had some really good games at Nevada over the years. We'll go in there confidence but it's a tough chore. With two wins we have a chance to tie for third if we get some help from some other people. I think more than winning or losing you just want to make sure you're playing better.
bc.net: On Saturday night you take on San Jose State on Senior Night in the Pan Am. Big picture if you're able to win both games this week and have Louisiana Tech beat Idaho and then Idaho beat Nevada you can finish in third place.
DS: Obviously Saturday is a big game with San Jose. Senior night, we have three seniors in our group with Crystal Boyd, Ashley Scroggins and Sierra Spence, our manager. It's interesting that of the three that Sierra's been here all four years. Crystal being a transfer that's come in and helped us this year in a big way and Ashley who had the adjustment period and played well the first part of this season and then suffered the knee injury but she's been very involved vocally with our team. All three are big parts of our team. It's a game we should win, it's a game we need to win regardless of what we do Wednesday. Winning that game on Saturday could put us 9-7 or 8-8. Even at 8-8 we'd finish fourth and we were picked to finish fifth or sixth. It makes it a rewarding WAC race knowing that we gave some games away. At the same time there's nothing wrong with finishing in the top half of this league, especially this year. It's been a competitive league and you never know what's going to happen in the other games. You don't want to rely on others to do your work for you but it would be nice to get some help from some other people. What we need to do is just try to go out and win two more games going into the tournament.
bc.net: The team managers are a role that often get overlooked on a team, what kind of impact has she had on the team being a four-year team manager?
DS: Just her position as manager shows the growth of our program. We didn't have one when I first got here. We did not have a manager and other teams had two or three. It's something we fought very hard for and not just because I was going to put Sierra in that role but it's something that every team needs. You need somebody when you're short staffed, we don't have an Ops person so those managers come into play and do a lot of important things for us. She's helped us in practice, whether it's filming or stats or scoreboard work, uniforms, laundry, helping get meals on the road. She's just been a valuable member of our team. When you've got a solid staff your players are more comfortable. She's also a very good student here in our Honors College at NMSU and is going to graduate this spring. It's been enjoyable to have her travel with us as well and just to have her around has been fun.
bc.net: On Saturday when you take on San Jose State it will be the first time the past two seasons that you will not play the team that you're going to face in the first round of the WAC tournament. How does that change what you do in preparation for the tournament? You've also had this layoff between the Utah State game and the upcoming Nevada game, how much has that helped with the health of your team?
DS: With a layoff it can go one of two ways and you really don't know until that next game starts. I think we've been pretty smart with the time off. We're trying to nurse Jasmine's ankle back to health, she just keeps tweaking it every time she hits the floor but that's Division I basketball in March, you're going to have bumps and bruises and you just move on. We've worked on keeping our timing, keeping our conditioning and keeping our competitiveness up but at the same time not killing us so we don't have anything in the tank to go play. Once we start playing at Nevada we'll see how the layoff effected us but I think this team is really eager and excited to play so they'll get out and give it a run.
The first round opponent in the tournament, regardless of who that's going to be, you draw back on your experiences in the first two times you played them. You go back watch tape, you go over what you did well against them, what you didn't do well against them and depending on who we're going to play, it's going to either be a team we beat twice or a team that's beaten us twice. You've got to be ready either way. I don't particularly fall into that group that says it's hard to beat a team three times because I think if you beat them twice you ought to beat them three times, four times, five times. At the same time if we're on the other end of that, if we were going to play Idaho for instance, we sure would play that up! You can spin all this stuff however you want to spin it but we really believe, and I say this a lot and I mean this, in 35 years of this program it's been to postseason play three times. Late 80's to the NCAA and early 90's once to the NIT. Three times in the last six years we've been to the championship game. We've been an arms length away from postseason. It's something that we feel like we can do each and every year if you're playing the right way, making the adjustments at the right time. A lot of teams go into tournament play and play not to lose instead of playing to win. For us, we've always gone in there and just swung away and went in there and had some fun and we'll do the same thing this year.