Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 12/21/10 Your thoughts on the loss to Arizona, another tough opponent in a game where you gave yourselves a chance to win late.
Darin Spence: Yeah we did and you're always wondering how your team is going to go compete against teams that are at that level. Arizona is by far the best team we've seen to date. They'll continue to have a good year. I was pleased, we got out there, we competed and we showed signs of being really good but the disappointing part is we showed signs of letdowns and mistakes at the wrong time. But overall there's a lot of good things that we can build on and move forward as long as our players take the right lessons from that game and apply it as we move forward.

It's still a loss though. No matter how good you feel about how you competed, we still got beat. That's something that we can't accept no matter who we play. It's something that we work hard to try not to do very much. In terms of all of these close games that you've played against good competition, how have you seen the growth in your team from those experiences?
DS: I think the first answer is I've seen our group turn into a group who expects to play well and really expects to win those games, not just show up and be in the game. This group really expects to give themselves a chance to win the game. That's the first step right there. If you have a group that believes in each other, believes in what they're doing and believes they have a chance to win, that gives you a base and allows you to make adjustments throughout the games. From the coaches seat that's a great positive.

Individual players have grown in how they're handling the ball, taking care of the ball, stepping up to score, rebounding, that kind of stuff. I just think overall though, just having a group that believes they can win games. One of the themes that has been present in the losses is that your team has found itself down 10 to 12 points around the midway point of the second half and has been able to battle to within one or two possessions around the four minute mark. What's been the key to being able to put yourselves in that position late with a chance to win?
DS: I think the first part of that is the issue of how we get in that deficit to begin with. It's a depth issue. When we play those better teams, they have more players at a higher level than we do. That's the first issue. What allows us to come back and fight back in is our players realize, hey we can do this. They're not that much better than us and if we just pull together and execute better at both ends, we can do well, we can play with these guys, we can give ourselves a chance to win the game. It's that never say die, the attitude that you've got to play all 40 minutes, that's the biggest plus of our team right now. They keep cranking it out and that's a good thing and you like to see that but we've got to get rid of those lulls that allow us to get in those deficits to begin with. With three non-conference games left and your team headed towards conference play, what all have you seen from the opposition in terms of seeing different styles of defense, different styles of offense that your team will be able to apply in conference play?
DS: We've seen teams that play very aggressive man-to-man defense, we've seen team that play a softer more gap-oriented man-to-man defense, we've seen zone, we've seen full court press, halfcourt trap. Pretty much the only thing we haven't seen is a box-in-one or triangle defense. We've seen teams that switch our screens, not switch, defended ball screens different ways. We've seen it all. Our schedule has been really tough and the three games we have remaining to play before conference starts are three difficult teams. You're talking about three conference title level teams in their respective conferences. We'll have seen some pretty good tests but at the same time we're going to face some pretty good teams in the WAC and if we're used to playing at this level now we can just keep that as the norm and the standard and you have to compete at that level that we did at Arizona, that we did at Michigan, that we tried to do against Houston. If we stay at that level then we'll have a chance to be a successful team in conference. With Madison's return on Sunday, what impact did you see from her presence? We've talked a lot about her being that calming force on the court. What specifically did you see with her return that really helped the team out?
DS: The organization. Getting people in the right spots at the right times, having that overall experience allowed her teammates to get back in their groove and relax a little bit and not have to do more than they're capable of doing. It gave us that player who can step up and make big shots and make big free throws down the stretch. Just that overall leadership. Then being one of the better players in the country, that's what she brings to us.

On the flip side, she played solidly but she's nowhere near where she was before she got hurt and that takes some time to work yourself back into it and get back into playing shape and all that. A real positive is how Kaitlyn Soto has improved also to play with her, to go back into her support role having Madi back, because of what Madi went through it's really helped Kaitlyn be a much much more capable player and she's really improved her game. It's worked out for the better for us also. Wednesday you take on Utah who is another team that has a lot basketball tradition and made an Elite Eight run three or four years ago. It's another chance for your team to notch a solid victory.
DS: Utah has won seven of the 11 Mountain West Conference championships. That right there tells you they know what they're doing. They have good players, they're used to winning and that Utah on their chest means a lot. Just from a program standpoint they're as good as you're going to find out here. They're a team that has good size, they've got a transfer from Stanford. You're talking about a team that has played at that level. They're athletic, they're bigger than we are, they're just a solid basketball team. Of course it's another great challenge for us. It's a team that if we'll compete at that Arizona and Michigan level we'll have a chance to be successful on our home floor. It all comes down to which lessons are you going to carry over from the two games we just played and apply in this game. Utah has good depth, they've got good quickness, they score the ball well. Their record right now is not like it's been in years past but at the same time they've played a pretty good schedule, SEC, Pac 10, they've played some good people and quite frankly their kids are thinking that they should be having a better season also so they'll be hungry to play and get a road win. It's a game that we're going to have to be playing at a high level and really depending on each other to be successful. What are some keys for your team against them?
DS: I want to see on the offensive end, I want to see us execute for a longer stretch, longer period of time. We've seen in games where we've really scored, we've moved the ball, we've trusted each other, we've gotten good shots. I want to see us stay to that level of play and not lose our focus and not compete on the offensive end like we have in the last two games. I think if we do that, it will allow us to get back to our free throw shooting. We haven't shot as many free throws in the last two games as we normally but playing in a Big 10 arena and playing in a Pac 10 arena had a lot to do with that. At the same time, our being aggressive and really attacking them is what allows us to get on the foul line. That's something that we've got to get back to. It just goes back to us getting better shots and getting the right people in the right spots. It's really moreso on the offensive end right now for us. Defensively we've been solid and doing a good job and our rebounding had been getting better. I just think our overall offensive execution has to get better.