bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/29/10

bleedCrimson.net: You picked up three good wins last week against Western New Mexico, Alcorn State and Northern Iowa and Tabytha Wampler has been playing very well.
Darin Spence: No question. We had a good stretch here. We had a real busy week playing three games in one week. Even though they were all home games, it was three very different opponents, a Division II (Western New Mexico), a very quick and athletic Alcorn State team and a physical, very well executed conference champion and NCAA tournament team in Northern Iowa. They were three big challenges. The first time to not play with Madison. It was another learning situation for our team not having her. I think the kids really buckled down and did some good things.

Tabytha, she's good and I've known she has the ability to be a high level player here and it's now coming to the forefront and that's a positive for all of us.

bc.net: Your team responded very well in the two games that you played without Madison, you had a lead on Alcorn State and held on for the win after they made a big run and then you were down by 12 in the first half of the Northern Iowa game and came back to win that one holding them off in the second half as well.
DS: It's kind of interesting playing without your floor leader. Madison has been pretty good for us for a long time. So now all of the sudden, the game she got hurt, you're talking about a group of kids in her teammates that really feel like they got punched in the gut. You're seeing your teammate stagger off the floor like she took an overhand right from George Foreman. Mentally and emotionally that takes it toll on you and the kids did a good job of going back and refocusing and putting away the in-state Division II school. Those are always hard games to play. We like to keep some of the money in state and give it to those schools but they're really no-win situations for us. If you don't look good and you don't beat them by a lot then everybody says "What's wrong with you?"

Then Alcorn State is real feisty. I don't know why they didn't start pressing us earlier but it caused us some problems in the second half and human nature set in where we let down again but it was a good learning experience for Kaitlyn Soto for her to get in there and get some good quality minutes running the team and Andrea Chenier being a freshman, getting a good look. We had to hold on and make some free throws down the stretch. A year ago we would have gave that game away. Those are some that we just gave away but we held on and found a way to win.

Then the Northern Iowa game, I think our team really grew up because we had opportunities to give that one away too but we made some defensive stops down the stretch, made some free throws and got some big baskets and in a game like that I knew that if it was too close they were going to be right there when it was said and done just because they're a conference champion and an NCAA Tournament team and have good experience. It was just a good showing by our team and we've taken some steps forward.

bc.net: What are some of the things that you're most pleased with seeing from your team playing without Madison?
DS: I've seen our offense execute better and especially with having to go against a man-trapping press that really bothered us for a stretch in the second half against Alcorn State. I really saw us figure out how to handle that and then with Northern Iowa and their little half-court trap zone we found a way to move the ball against both of those. We had to execute and we got the ball into our scorer's hands so from an offensive standpoint we executed better and found a way to get some baskets. We lost a 14 point a game scorer and a 1,000-plus point career score and so all of the sudden to go jump into games that's a lot to pick up for. Not any one person has to score her 14 points, which they didn't, we've gotten more points from a couple of people. We still have to find a way to pick up her 14 points, plus her ball handling, plus her clutch free throw shooting plus her court presence and I've seen our team make positive strides and not so much look around for her but just them moving forward and accepting the challenge. That's a good thing.

Defensively I thought we really played some good stretches of defense and got some stops when we needed to. For our seventh game of the year we did some positive things. We've got a lot to work on still there's no question about that but we've got a quality experience that will help us by the time we get into January and February.

bc.net: Your team has also shown a lot of mental toughness early in the season picking up the one point win at North Dakota, the come-from-behind overtime win at UTEP and then the two wins this past week where you had to hold on to a lead.
DS: It's a team that is a little more mature, we've got some people that are in their third and fourth years that have played a lot of minutes at this level and they're doing a good job of helping out the three new ones. It's a team that's slowly getting some things figured out and they have an ever-growing team chemistry on the court, that's getting much, much better. This group has really found a way to look out for each other on the floor and they know where the ball needs to go now and who needs it. It's just a group that has grown up and we need that to continue. Everybody on your team has to prepare in practice so when they're asked to do something in the game. they're ready. Too many times kids want a coach to tell them, "Hey, I'm going to play you," so then they go work hard. Our kids are a little different. We've got them now that they're working hard so that when we do need them they're ready to go and there's no question about it we needed all of them this weekend and we'll need them all down the road. As our team keeps growing up we'll give ourselves a chance to do good things.

bc.net: How would you assess the play of your newcomers so far early in the season?
DS: I would say that they're new. They're definitely a work in progress. All three of them, they bring different things to the table but they're going through those early adjustments. Arielle McGhee who is a forward post player who coming from the junior college ranks has to mentally accept the differences and the challenges. The workload is a lot greater than at the junior college level. I for one being a JUCO coach for many years know that that and it just takes a while for some of those kids when they transfer to get it figured out. So we kind of recognized the fact that maybe we were trying to throw too much on her too soon and so we brought her off the bench in the Northern Iowa game to let her see it a little bit and then get in and she was much better. That different role allowed her to relax a little bit and when she came into the game I thought she did some good things for us.

Jasmine Rutledge is still trying to get it figured out. She brings a lot of energy and there are going to be nights when she plays a lot of minutes and does some good things and then she'll have some typical freshman nights as well. She's very much in the picture of our scheme as we go forward.

Andrea Chenier has to play some big minutes for us at the one and the two and she's very capable of it. She's had minute where she's been really good so far in her seventh game of her Division I career and then she's had some nights and some minutes where she's looked like a true freshman.

All three are working hard and all three are going to be good for us. We've just got to stay with them and give them their minutes when we can get them and the longer they do positive things on the floor, the longer we can play them and the more it helps our team as we grow our depth.

bc.net: On Wednesday night you take on in-state rival New Mexico. What do you hope to see from your kids on Wednesday night?
DS: First of all, it's a home game and of course it's your in-state rival. I told our team today in what we did on the court, this game to me is no bigger to me than the game we just played and it's no bigger than the game against Cal State-Northridge on Sunday. it's just one of our 14 non-conference games and I know a lot of people want to play up the rivalry and all that but to me and the way my philosophy is, it's a game. It's a game that we can improve in, it's game that we can get better and it's a chance to compete. Yeah we want to win the game but at the same time New Mexico's women's basketball program is really good and it's been really good for all the years that Don Flanagan has been coaching there. They're a little younger but when you're a good program, you get to recruit a different kind of youth than other programs do. I have the utmost respect for what they do, they've beaten us many times and we've beaten them once and that was a proud moment for us. But they're so hard to keep up with and their older players keep handing down the lessons to their younger players and as long as they've got that New Mexico on their jersey it means a lot to them. It's a battle. It's a tough tough battle every time we play. We feel going into the game Wednesday that we have a good chance with our team this year. It's going to be a little different playing without Madison but that just means that somebody else is going to have pick up the slack and create some plays for us. It's just the next game on our schedule and we're going to prepare and go out and compete and try to give ourselves a chance to win the game.

bc.net: Sunday you take on Cal State-Northridage. The Matadors are winless on the season but how the coaches guard the players against what happened last year against North Dakota a team that came in winless and that picked up that first win agains the Aggies?
DS: We played Northridge a year ago so our kids are familiar with them. They've got a couple guards that are good players and they've got the big kid that is really good and they have a new coaching staff in. They played three over in Hawai'i so they've played on a tough trip and they're going to play against UTEP before they play here. But like I said against New Mexico, they're just the next game on our schedule. It's not a bigger game or a lesser game than the one we play after it. So if our team has some maturity and they're growing up which we believe they are, we'll focus on that game on Sunday when the time comes. We've talked about it already because when we went into the Alcorn State game, they did not have a win. So our kids that played in the North Dakota game and even against Idaho where they don't have a lot of wins, it's different because it's that game at hand. You can't worry about a team who is 0-5 because they may have played five of the better teams in the country. You've got to look past the record and just know that you're going to be playing at home and a win on your side is going to be a heck of a lot more enjoyable than a loss on your side. So we just have to pay attention to what we do and control and just focus on what we can control and not really worry about the actual opponent. That's been our big message this year on the season. Who cares who we're playing, let's just worry about New Mexico State and getting better at what we do and we'll just adjust as the game goes.

bc.net: What are some improvements that you'd like to see after these two games this week?
DS: We need to be a little bit more physical rebounding the ball and that's both offensively and defensively. We need to be more aware of where the shots are taken from so we can do a better job rebounding. That's probably the biggest area of interest that we need to get better at. For us in years past rebounding has always gotten better as the year goes on as we become more familiar with where we are defensively and offensively.

The second area is because we are a team that's pretty aggressive offensively and we're going to have some aggressive turnovers, we've got to cut down the mind-numbing braindead throw it in the stands turnovers that don't do us any good. We've had a few of those each game, though we're doing a good job with our assist to turnover ratio this year but we still have too many of those "What are you doing?" type turnovers. So we've got to cut those out.

And finally, just grow offensively and defensively and just keep moving forward.