Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/15/10 Your overall thoughts on the weekend split at North Dakota State and North Dakota?
Darin Spence: I thought we did some good things both offensively and defensively. Coming away with a split was a positive for us and we were in a position to win the first game as well we just didn't make a couple plays and missed some free throws. We did some good things. We got a lot of good tape to watch, both on the negative and positive side so it's something we can definitely build on. It was a very tough trip. You're playing back-to-back nights in true road games on a road trip like that is pretty tough, especially when one of the schools is a conference champion and has a lot of tradition. That atmosphere at North Dakota was second only to UNM. That was pretty fun up there and it was good to get out of there and come away with the win. It was a good trip for us. The game at North Dakota State, that's a place that they've only lost 24 games in the last 10 years at home and your team was right there tied at 72 with about five minutes left.
DS: Yeah. I told our players. North Dakota State. Both of those schools were powerhouses back when they were at the Division II level. They were always playing for titles, national titles. North Dakota State's home winning percentage is like 87 percent so that's a tough place to play. North Dakota's got three national championship banners hanging in there and those lessons, the tradition of winning, kind of goes from one year to the next and those kids want to play for that school and that program and the coach has been there for a long time at North Dakota and done really well. It's a tough place to go in there and play, especially with the conference championship they won last year in their first year of playing Divison I in the Great West. It says a lot about their program. It was a much bigger win for us than what anybody will realize, anybody down here, whether it's our players, our coaches or our fans. That's a huge win for us when they don't lose at home very many times. Especially the second night of back-to-back true road games. It was a tough game for us and I'm proud of our kids. In both of the first two games your team has come out of the strarting gate a little slowly and gotten down big but in both games you put together a good run and were only down by three at NDSU and you got two big three pointers right before the half at North Dakota and instead of being down by 15 at half, your'e only down by nine which turned out to be a pretty big lift.
DS: Yeah, no question. Both nights we closed the first halves on runs and gave us a little momentum. It just shows what the players are capable of doing when they're focused and they go out there and play to win. They can do some good things on both sides of the ball.

The North Dakota State first half, we got back on our heels early because we got in foul trouble and this early in the year it's so hard to get used to what officials are going to call. We're kind of a physical team and we play that way defensively and it kind of got us back on our heels. We missed some easy shots and free throws. We just had to get it turned back around and I thought we did a good job of that, especially in the NDSU game getting back and getting the game tied late in the game.

In the North Dakota game, all of the sudden we're sitting there seeing a zone and we had to figure out a way to attack that and towards the very last possession of the first half we found a different attack and Erica [Sanchez] hit the three sending us into the halftime. The kids did a good job of making adjustments and our coaches saying, "Hey let's try this or let's try that." We tweaked it a little bit and gave ourselves a chance both nights. Walk through what you talked to your kids about in the timeout just before end of the North Dakota game and then getting the layup by Tabytha Wampler to win the game.
DS: We'd been picking away at their zone and trying to find open spots and what we did, especially with Erica, Tabytha and Ariella, they did a good job of stepping out high post and bringing a fourth perimeter player out and making their zone really have to adjust and slide differently than what they're normally used to. Then what it did was open up a one-on-one in the post. We wanted to see what kind of shot after we'd reversed the ball on that last play and Tabytha did a good job of sealing that middle zone defender, the ball came back to Madi and she threw a nice pass in there and led the little left-hand dropstep layup for Tabytha to give us the lead. We did a good job of execution, especially coming out of the timeout. Your team really showed that you can score, you get 79 points in the first game, 82 in the second game and both games you had five players finish in double-digits scoring.
DS: We're capable of being a good basketball team this year. We have good depth, our skill level is good, our athleticism is good. We're a little bit more mature than we were the last two years but we're still fairly young when you look at how many years of Division I level experience we have on our team. I heard on t.v. the other night talking about one of the men's team being young and that they had 20 years of experience and I think we only have 22 years of experience at the Division I level with our players. We're not old by any stretch of the imagination. But we have different lineups that we can go with and our guards are as good as any we're going to see so as long as our forwards keep coming and keep working and relax, let loose and go play I think we'll be able to score points this year. Our defense is pretty solid so we feel pretty good about where we are right now but we know we still have a long way to go. How would you grade Ariella McGhee's play in her first two true Division I games?
DS: She's a competitor, she's got good athleticism and good instincts. What she has to do is just allow herself to grow each day, allow herself to work harder every day to try to apply what we do in practice and carry it over, not get frustrated, not get down. Back when we scrimmaged Texas Tech all of the sudden those big bodies were there and it took her a while to adjust but she did. She settled in. She did the same on this trip. She had to play against some bigger kids, some experienced players on this level. She just found a way. She kept chipping away especially the second half of the North Dakota game. She found herself in the high post area and hit some shots facing the basket whereas the night before at North Dakota State she'd just get it and spin and drive past their big 6'5" kid and get layups. She's going to be a work in progress. We need her to keep battling on defense a little harder and get on the rebounding a little bit more and not think so much and just play out of her instincts. I think if she just keeps working at it, she's got a chance to do well for us. Your team went just 12-of-21 from the free throw line against NDSU but bounce back and have a 24-of-27 performance against North Dakota including 19-of-20 in the second half and in a one point win, every single one of those is important.
DS: That's what was frustrating about the NDSU game. Through it all if we had just made our free throws we would have won that game. We have been a good free throw shooting team. I think last year we were top three in the league and shot a pretty good percentage. That was the frustrating part is we had complete control over the outcome of that game and we were getting to the free throw line.

When you're only going to shoot as many as we did that first night and the other team is going to shoot twice as many as you, you've got to make your free throws. That's what keeps you in the game, that's what allows you to take a lead and then we saw that the very next night. We got back to being confident from the line and we got some calls and we just took full advantage of it. Kids stepped up. Especially late in that North Dakota game with Day Day hitting three straight free throws and putting us right back there within reach and Madi coming down and hitting the threes. As long as you keep making your free throws you're right there, right within striking distance and on the road that's what you want. You want to put yourself in a position down one or score tied with the ball in your hands at the end of the game. How do you go about coaching up free throws, particularly when you're on the second game of two night road trip where you've had to expend a lot of energy putting together runs?
DS: We have good depth on this team. You go back to that first game, we played 12 players in that first half. I feel comfortable with the 12 player we had in uniform that on any given night we're going to find five that are going to bring us energy. The first night freshman Andrea Chenier was really good, second night she was back to being a freshman. Same thing, Camila Rosen, a sophomore returning All-Freshman team was solid the first night, the second night she didn't have that energy. Day Day had much more energy the second night versus what she had the first night. The team we have, Chrissy Fletcher gave us really good minutes both nights. We have good depth and it's just a matter of rotating our bench and subbing players and as long as the coaches have the confidence in the players to do that, based on the players earning it in practice, it gives me a lot more flexibility and allows me to make some decisions. I think that's a good thing for our team. Moving forward, if you've got a bunch of self-motivated players like we do it just makes it a lot much easier. Wednesday night you head to El Paso to take on UTEP.
DS: It's always an adventure when you go down there. Being as close as we are and the rival talk that you get into. We're pretty familiar with each other. We beat them twice last year and of course they want to beat us and we want to beat them. Our kids are excited about playing them. Coming back from the airport last night in one of the vans Coach Atkinson, once they passed UTEP, they started talking about them already. We have players that have played them and so they know and we have the new ones who have no idea but they'll learn here in the next two days.

We're used to being on the road now. I've been joking with some friends of mine, what nut coaches do you know that are going to play the schedule that we've already played and then follow that up with a third road game at your rival? But I wanted to test us and it's all falling in line and now we're ready to play on the road no matter where we go now. That first trip got us prepared. It doesn't matter if it's UTEP, UNM or Fresno we're going to be ready to go. What are some of the keys for your team going into that game on Wednesday and what are some things that you'd like to see as far as improvement from your squad?
DS: The defensive end just being a little bit more aware of situations, where their man is in relation to the ball and figuring out who has to help in rotation a little earlier. We did a much better job down the stretch at North Dakota in that. We've got to keep growing in that area. Just being a lot more aware, being a little more physical in a good way without fouling and putting them on the free throw line. Of course our defensive rebounding to keep getting better.

Offensively I'd like to see our offense grow and execute our offense better no matter if it's our man offense or our zone. I'd like to get out in transition a little better but that all comes from your defense and your rebounding but I'd like to get out in the open floor a little more and see what we can do there. The biggest thing we need to see is our team growing together, when bad things happen and when good things happen, just to see them competing and growing together as a group. As long as we do that we're going to keep growing and keep getting better. On Saturday you get your first home game and take on Houston who is another good quality mid-major team.
DS: Yeah, they've won a few Conference USA championships in their day. They're pretty solid. They're real athletic. Both these teams we're going to see, the athleticism and team speed is going to pick up from what we just played. Houston is going to come out and get after you and try to force a lot of turnovers and score off their defense. They're not an overly big team but they're fast and scrappy. We definitely have a huge week ahead of us. We want to play some good teams and get tested so when the WAC season rolls around we're ready to go. Then the following Monday to take on Western New Mexico at home.
DS: That game itself is a tough tough game to bounce back off of UTEP and Houston. We're at a time where nothing slows down it just keeps going. It's another chance for us to play another home game and get into that Thanksgiving week and take advantage of being at home. It's another game and another chance for us to keep getting better.