bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Utah game?
Darin Spence: My mind goes in so many directions when I stop and think about that game. The first thing I noticed is how hard it is for those schools in those big conferences to get up every single gameday to play teams at that level. The people at our level, whether it's Boise State in football, TCU in football, don't have a real good grasp of what that means. You can play a team like that once or twice but we just tried to pull off three in a row and two of them were on the road. When we got back for the Utah game, Utah being a proven seven time in 11 year conference champion, that's tough. We didn't have the energy or the maturity to get back up for that type of an opponent for the third game in a row.
It was kind of like when we came back and we played Houston here. We had those three tough road games and we didn't have a whole lot of energy for that first home game against Houston. I just thought we were a little lackadaisical to begin the game and they're a good ball team. Records in this sport are so deceiving sometimes. When you're a proven winner like Utah is, they're going to get back to that level and they surely are.
I thought in the second half we settled in, we established our inside game. Tabytha started going strong and not avoiding contact like she was in the first half. We goto the foul line and started playing good defense and everything clicked. Once again we were competitive against a higher level team. From that aspect I was pleased but I just can't shake the fact that we had the two knee injuries to Camila Rosen and Danisha Corbett.
bc.net: What is the extent of the injuries to Camila and Danisha?
DS: Camila is back home in California still. She's seeing her own doctor who did her other knee. Our own doctors here thought it was her ACL when she did it that night. A lot of people didn't realize it because she just went off balance and fell down shooting a layup and then just walked off the court. But she knew because she'd been through it before with the other leg.
Day Day had an MRI this morning, x-rays and so she's going back this evening with the doctors to go over the results. They thought it might be some meniscus and maybe some bruising. If that's it then they can go in and fix it and it may be a three week period. But I don't know. In my mind I'm preparing that we're not going to have them for the rest of the season. If you're going to lose players, it's always best to lose them before the season gets going because then you don't rely on them and other players early on have a chance to fill those spots. But when you're 12 games in and two games away from conference play, it's not the ideal situation. We've just got to find a way.
bc.net: With the injury now to those two players and you had the injury with Madison that kept her out for a long stretch, how important is it that Kaitlyn Soto and the two freshmen, Jasmine Rutledge and Andrea Chenier, have gotten so much playing time?
DS: It's huge for their own growth. In Kaitlyn's case she stepped in and did a real good job. So whether she starts again or comes off the bench, she's been in the fire. She's been in the bigger games whether it was New Mexico, Northern Iowa or Michigan. She's been in that situation, she's been in the pressure cooker. I think she's got a better grasp of what's needed.
Jasmine Rutledge has really shown that she can really play at this level. You can play her at a couple different positions and she's got a lot of confidence in herself.
Same thing with Dre, she can play the one, two or three and she's getting a lot more comfortable and she's ready to step up.
We've obviously had to have conversations with the two freshmen. We need you now, no longer is it we need you for a few minutes, we need you for a lot more minutes. They'll be ready.
We still have Kelsie Rozendaal who hasn't practiced a minute this year. She is probably one of our most solid, consistent efficient players on our team. She does everything right, she takes charges, she's a high energy player and so we've missed that as well. I think tomorrow' practice she's going to be able to do some ball handling and start moving around the court but we've been without her too.
bc.net: At the start the of the season we talked about Kaitlyn Soto and you mentioned that you had challenged her in the offseason to immerse herself more in the basketball aspect of her life. How do you feel she's done with that so far this year?
DS: I think she's done a good job. it doesn't happen overnight, you've got to develop new habits and you've got to develop new, good positive habits. That's where she is now. It can't be a one week fix and all of the sudden you've played better and you're fixed. It's a process about waking up every saying, "I've got to give more to my team, I've got to give more to my game." That's her everyday challenge. She takes it a lot more serious and she's getting better. I think her conditioning has to continue to improve and get better and that will allow her to play more minutes. She's such a tough kid that she'll find a way to help your team. At the same time she's got to recognize the nights that her decision making is not as good as it needs to be and if she's not shooting the ball well, she still has to handle it and get it in the hands of our scorers and lead our defense and just be a tougher minded player. She's getting there. I think her improvement, we see it as coaches and it's allowing her to play better.
bc.net: The Utah game was the second game back for Madison coming off that concussion last month, she finished with 17 points and six rebounds in the game.
DS: Yeah, she was good. Going back to the Arizona game, she did some good things in the Arizona game, just her conditioning and her timing was kind of off. For her it's frustrating, before she got hurt she was playing at such a high level and was in great shape. She bounced out there in that Arizona game and was trying to figure out how to do it again. Against Utah, that game she had to do it against some long defenders, some quick aggressive defenders. She found ways to hit shots, she found ways to drive it. She's one of those players that has always taken a lot of free throws and she's always been fouled. That's the next step for her. Will she still be as aggressive as she once was or will she be shy? She got back in there and went after it and did all she could do to try to help her team win and still fighting that fatigue factor of playing her a couple minutes, getting her out and getting her rest. I saw her a few times run by and ask to be taken out because she was gassed but in that second half we played five or six kids a lot of minutes because we had to get back in the game and I could see once we got back within reach that fatigue level hit not just her but it hit everybody as well. I think she's coming around. She's practicing better. The last couple days in practice she's been getting back to herself. It's nice to have her back on the floor.
bc.net: Thursday night you take on UNM up at The Pit. The first meeting between the two teams was one that you felt like slipped through your fingers.
DS: That first game with them was an interesting deal for us as far as where we were as a team. At the time we were coming off a tough emotional game with Northern Iowa, it was our third game without Madison and when that happens, your other players that are filling in, they kind of went back to their previous selves and didn't play at the high level they did in the previous games.
I thought we were a little lethargic, a little emotionally drained when we played New Mexico. I thought they were the same way because they had a tough 2OT loss to Oklahoma State before we played them. I thought it was two teams out there just fumbling around for a while. The thing with them is they always have that New Mexico on their jersey. They have that tradition and they've been good for so long, that's what they have to recall on and that kind of lifts them through their down times.
For us there's a couple things that hurt us. We've played good defense this year except our rebounding has let us down defensively and it gives teams easier second and third shots and offensively we've had some untimely, careless turnovers that have led to other teams' layups so that hurts our defensive field goal percentage. So it looks like we're not playing good defense but we are. It's just those two areas. When we turn the ball over we can't guard people shooting layups at the other end. We've got to clean those areas up and it's going to make us a lot better.
Against New Mexico, they're not going to play faster than their skill level so they're not going to put themselves in a bad situation and beat themselves. We've got to do a better job of making them play defense a little bit longer. We've got to control our offensive possessions better and we want to do a much, much better job of playing through Tabytha in the post and we've got to get her going earlier in games and allow her to get to the free throw line and not put her in defensive situations where she gets early foul trouble where we haven't given her a chance on the offensive end. I think when we start playing through her in the beginning of games and start shooting perimeter jump shots less, I think we'll be a little bit better off in our rhythm and our offense will be better off.
But now going into that game, their last game they lost down at UTEP on a buzzer beater and so they're going to be anxious to play as well and we've got two fewer players now so it's going to be a whole different ballgame this time around.
bc.net: Sunday you take on UTEP for the second time this season and in the first game you had a big comeback late and won in overtime.
DS: It was a hard fought game, it was a great win for us. Our kids really held together and just found a way to win in overtime. Again, they're playing well. They're playing better. They're 7-3, they've beaten some good teams. The other two games that they've lost were at Santa Barbara and at Denver so they were road games. This is a little bit different road game when we're 40 minutes away from them but it is a road game. They've got some new kids that they're trying to plug in as well but they're 7-3 and they've played a decent schedule. I think they're going to be a lot better and of course remembering that we beat them. It's going to be tough, no question. We gave two very difficult games before we start WAC play. Without Day Day and Camila we're going to have to be even better and a lot more efficient and not turn the basketball over and we're going to have to play solid basketball
bc.net: Given that you're going to be playing without Danisha and Camila what are some things that you're looking for from your team as you head into WAC play next week?
DS: Offensively we try to score 65-plus points per game. In doing that we need to make sure that we play offense longer. We can't take as many quick, early, bad shots as we've been known to take. We can't turn the ball over where we have no chance of playing defense. Those two areas are very important. We've got to play through Tabytha earlier in games and try to get the other team's inside people in foul trouble. I think if we do that it's going to carry over to our defense as well. Our defensive field goal percentage will get better without those turnovers and we can get our defense set. Our rebounding is going to get better, that's how our teams always go. Those are probably the main areas that we have to focus on. We've got to use our bench better, we've got to watch minutes played and not just think that we've got to keep our best five out there all the time because if we do that then we're just going to wear ourselves down. Right now we don't have the depth, especially in our guard shots. When you lose Day Day and Camila who were solid players for us with good experience, it's going to take a collective group effort to be competitive as we have been whether it's home or away, San Jose or Fresno State. We've got to get to a level where we're setting the standard and giving ourselves a chance.