bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the loss to Idaho in the quarterfinals.
Darin Spence: It was rather disappointing because we had gone into it prepared and ready to play and we had done some good things in the game and played in some runs. The thing that had bothered us all year long was at the wrong times we would have some of our top kids just kinda check out on us. Whether it was mental fatigue or, this might sound crazy, the fear of success. A lot of kids would rather fail to keep those higher expectations off of them. It's almost like, "If we win then we gotta keep going and coach is going to expect more out of us." That's kind of been something that's bothered me and hurt us all year long and kind of crept in at the wrong time in that game.
The other issue was, and we talked about this going in, our rebounding had to be better on the defensive end. We gave up some offensive rebounds to them at the wrong time trying to increase our lead when we had it or get back to try to tie the game up when we got down late. We just couldn't get over that hump. It was a disappointing way to end that part of the season.
bc.net: One of the key sequences in that game was when the Aggies were down by four and Danisha Corbett hit a three to cut the lead to one point, but then Idaho hit a three to go back up by four and then another three to go up by seven points, Jasmine Lowe hit a three to cut the lead to four but then they answered again with another three to go back up by seven. It just seemed like in the second half any time you would make a run and cut the lead to four or one, Idaho had an answer.
DS: No question. I said this going into it. They're just one of those teams, they're making plays in conference season. They're so much better than what people think. You look at overall records and sometimes that's not a true indicator if a team can play or not just based on where they have to play and who they have to play in non-conference. They just make plays. The thing about them is you look at their senior point guard Charlotte Otero, she has grown into one of the best point guards in our league. She doesn't make mistakes, she gets the ball to the people where it needs to go, she hardly ever turns the ball over. Now we forced her to turn the ball over early in the game but when it got down the stretch, she just doesn't turn the ball over and doesn't make mistakes which is opposite what our point guard had done sometimes down the stretch. They're a good solid team, they stepped up and made plays. We had a couple defensive breakdowns in that stretch as well and it cost us.
bc.net: Louisiana Tech beat Fresno State in the WAC Tournament championship game which means there will likely be two teams from the WAC in the NCAA Tournament. You've mentioned that the WNIT and the WBI have been in contact with you. What's the status on that?
DS: I've had four good conversations over the weekend with directors of both of those groups. Of course you'd like to go to the WNIT. Now Fresno should get in [to the NCAA Tournament], if we put two teams in the NCAA tournament which is huge for us, it's great for the league, we've gone from the 23rd ranked RPI league the 12th ranked RPI league in one year which is huge for us. If some of the bottom end teams in the WAC can get better that will help us even more. But that means that Nevada gets the automatic bid into the WNIT because they finished third in the league, even though us and Boise both finished with better records than Nevada. So for the WNIT, we're sitting and waiting on an at-large bid. They've expanded the field. Two years ago we should have got in but it was only a 32 team event. So we didn't get in, had it been 64 we'd have been in that year for sure. The WNIT encouraged us to keep practicing. We've been practicing since we got back. We practiced Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was interesting just getting the kids going again. Sunday we had a really good practice, we played a lot of five on five just to get them back in the mindset of playing. They're excited, they're unsure. The WNIT Director said to keep practicing, we're very much in the conversation and our wins over Michigan, who will most likely be in the NCAA Tournament, and Kansas who will be in the WNIT for sure are huge wins for you. We're 2-2 against the Top 50 with our two losses being to Fresno. We're there, we're in the conversation but you have to wait and see how it all plays out. I've been looking at all the teams and going down the list. I think after the 64 teams that are in the NCAA and then you look at the WNIT teams, the big question is, Boise is a couple spots ahead of us in the RPI, which is what they look at but then they also say they don't look at it a lot and that there's more to it than just RPI, but we've beaten them twice and we've got those two big wins. So you just never know how people in that room, what they like, will they take both us and Boise in the WNIT? Boise has been there before and won a couple games. I think with us being the 12th ranked league, there could be three teams in the WNIT.
The WBI is the new kid on the block, it's a 16 team format and they want us in. They've already sent a contract to us. That decision is going to be out of my hands. That's going to be the people above me. It's not a bid process like the WNIT. You pay a certain amount to host. The higher seed hosts the game and if you host you pay a certain fee but then there's no revenue sharing, you keep all of what you make. But you pay for the gameday expenses. If you go on the road the first two rounds you get a $7000 guarantee check and then semifinal/final you get a $9000 check. I know my bosses are going to talk about the money, is it worth spending that money to go play. So that you have to look at. But on the other hand this program has only been to postseason three times in 35 years. I feel really good about the fact that we've played in three WAC title games putting us an arms length away from postseason three times. Any postseason would be huge for our program and keep us growing in the right direction.
bc.net: Aside from the mindset standpoint of being able to say that you were in a postseason and that part being huge for the program, what are the tangible on-court benefits from playing in the postseason?
DS: You get to spend some more time with each other. If you're in the WNIT or the WBI, you have your own demons that you probably couldn't get over in the season. It gives you a chance to work on that. As a coach you make the decision of do I play all my young kids and play for next year or you want to reward your older kids, in our case we only have one senior, so Crystal in this case. You can tinker with things, you get the practice time but on the other hand either WNIT or WBI, we're playing in maybe two days from now. You find out tonight, you're either traveling or at home, there's a lot that goes on. It takes a good team effort to get there. I just think win or lose the first game, sure you want to go play and win but it's valuable and your kids can see that they have been rewarded for having a good year.
We won 18 games this year, if you go down and look at the 340 plus teams and how many teams have won 18 games or more? It's maybe 100 at the most. We're in pretty good company. Sure we've lost some games that we shouldn't have this year but we've also won some games that we shouldn't have. We feel good about all of that and where we're at. It's amazing how when you win some games and the outside expectations, all of the sudden think you're world beaters, when really this is such a young group and inexperienced and two new transfers in. I'm really pleased with the progress we've made, not with losing some games, but winning 18 games is pretty good.
bc.net: What are some of the highlights of your season? You had the big wins over Michigan and then No. 25 Kansas and also swept UTEP for the first time as the head coach at NMSU.
DS: I think moreso than just the teams that we beat and the teams we lost to, just seeing our team grow up every single day. Injuries aren't an excuse to win or to lose but they surely can make you take a different path. Erica Sanchez played and started for us a year ago and we lose a kid with some size who was our best returning rebounder who could make shots and was 6'3" and we lose her before the season even starts. Our other post, Ashley Scroggins who is a senior, had just started to come into her own, we lose her the day before we played Michigan. We had to, five games in, retool and tinker with things. To see our group hang in there and play undersized all year long and find a way. It wasn't my intent to go into this year playing four out one in, I wanted to go back into the two posts and play a little high low stuff and be more physical. We had to change and our kids really stepped up.
Defensively we got better, we've still got a long way to go. Rebounding we got better. I just like how our kids grew together and kept trying to improve each day.
It's hard enough to get a team like Michigan or Kansas to come into our arena but to beat those two teams was huge. On a negative note, it has hurt us in scheduling, it has made scheduling so much harder for next year. But that's a good problem to have. It's been exciting. We've had some highs, we've had some lows but we've learned along the way and I like the way our team has grown up.
bc.net: Your thoughts on the play of your three freshmen post players, Camila Rose, Malia Magazzeni and Christina Fletcher.
DS: Malia Magazzeni, the post kid from the Phoenix area has come in here and really given us some good play. Chrissy Fletcher from Illinois, same thing. They've both been solid. We didn't bring them in to average a double-double, we brought them in to give us some mobility, some athleticism, be good role players and play hard. Both have gotten so much better and big kids always take a year to improve. If you were in a position where you could redshirt more kids you could do that, it might help them be older than the kids they are playing against when they do play. If you look at our men's team it's helped them. All those kids are a year older than what they are eligibility wise. Those two have done a really good job for us. We can play one kid against one team and the other against another team depending on the matchups.
Camila Rosen, that kid making the WAC All-Freshman team really says a lot about her perseverance. Missing her high school senior year with the knee and then coming in here and getting back to where she could play, breaks her wrist in the preseason and doesn't practice for about a month. She just stayed with it and got better as the year went on and as her leg gets stronger and she gets more comfortable with it I think she's got some good days ahead of her. She played some valuable minutes for us especially when she went into the starting lineup. She hit some big shots in some games. Those three are really going to be solid for us down the road.
bc.net: Tabytha Wampler really improved this year from last season when she was in foul trouble a lot and fouled out of a lot of games. This year she was really able to stay in games a lot more this year and established herself as an offensive presence as well.
DS: No question. She's a hard worker, she's committed to it. She's got both feet in the circle meaning she's really committed to doing what we're doing. Practices hard, good student, good kid to be around. She was in foul trouble a lot less than a year ago which I think comes with experience and even in the few games in which she had to sit in the first half because of fouls, she didn't let it take her out of the game so when she got back into the game in the second half she was able to be a lot more productive and really help her team.
She's just one that keeps working and keeps trying to find her niche with the team and whatever we need her to do. I do know that looking forward we've got to start using her more. But at the same time trying to play through her and not just her shooting it every time she gets it. We need to establish more of an inside presence to get people off of our guards and to create some more open shots for them. Tabytha is one of the best rebounders in the league, she goes after every ball. She shot free throws well and I just think going into her junior year she has a chance to be one of the top forwards in the WAC. She keeps working hard so I think she's going to be good for us.
bc.net: What is the status on Crystal Boyd possibly getting a sixth year of eligibility?
DS: The initial committee turned us down which makes no sense. This is just the committee that reviews the paperwork. Braun Cartwright has since filed the appeal so it goes to the committee above them that will actually hear the case. What they had told Braun was that had she gone to Division II she could have played two years but because she stayed Division I only one year and that makes no sense whatsoever to me. The thing that makes me angry with this is here you have a kid who is having success. This is her first full year of playing collegiate basketball. She's had all her injuries at Texas, head coaching change and it wasn't a good fit for her. So when a kid goes and leaves and it's a mutual thing from the coaching staff to the player and she's trying to better herself, she's above a 3.0 GPA, she's got her bachelor's degree already, she's working on her Master's degree courses. Here's a kid who's having success, doing it the right way and they want to pull the rug out from under her. But it's out of my hands. Now we're just waiting on this next committee. We've been told that later this month we should have some idea. I don't expect her right now to get the other year. It also really puts us in a bind because we don't know what to do with our spring recruiting right now, do we have this other scholarship to use or don't we? Either way we'd like to know so we can move on and prepare.
bc.net: What does your 2010-2011 schedule look like for next season?
DS: Well we won't have as many home games. Going back to our schedule this past season, we have surpassed all our projected revenues that we needed for this year and ticket sales and all that stuff, we've had a phenomenal year in that area. We've had teams for our Thanksgiving Classic say they're coming and then they back out and I'm talking about Big 12 and SEC teams. We've been turned down to go to an event at a university in the Big East where there is a Big East school that is ranked 6th or 7th in the country and and ACC school that doesn't want to play us and that's even on the road. It's getting really difficult. The Big West schools that we have normally been playing have said that they're not going to be flying and that they're going to stay in their own state and play non-conference because of budgets. We've got a nationally ranked team, Wisconsin-Green Bay coming in here, we'll have New Mexico twice, UTEP twice, Northern Iowa is scheduled to come to the Thanksgiving Classic, they just won the Missouri Valley tournament so they're going to the NCAAs, we have to make a return to North Dakota, North Dakota State and Michigan. Cal State-Northridge has to to make their return here. It's still kind of up in the air. It may take a while. We could possibly play our Thanksgiving Classic with three teams and play it over three days where we play each other so it's one game a day, I'm not opposed to that. It's a lot more challenging to put this schedule together.