Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/24/11 Your thoughts on Saturday's big win over Utah State, a very solid effort from your team.
Darin Spence: It was fun. The interesting thing is I asked our team after we played at Fresno, "Is it fun?" As a coach seeing us, what we've gone through this year, the tough schedule, the injuries, it just hasn't been a lot of fun. So let's go make it fun. From how we've practiced, how we've gone on road trips. And I don't mean middle school giggle fun, I mean in a Division I sense, enjoying each other's company, bringing out our best in practice and game and really trying to compete at a higher level. So we're getting there. We've been a little sharper, a little more focused. Utah State is a very good basketball team. There's not a lot that separates them from us or a lot of the schools in our league. On any given night it's just who has the fewest mental turnovers, the fewest amount of mistakes and who can capitalize on the other team's mistakes.

It was a game that we needed to win and I was really pleased with most of our players and how they grouped together and two of our seniors, Madi and Day Day were pretty focused and locked in for 40 minutes and we had others step in and do a good job. It was a good win for us. Madison and Danisha both had strong nights, they combined to score 19 of the final 22 points of the first half and they were the ones who hit back-to-back threes out of the timeout when your team trailed 58-51 and really kept you in the game in the second half.
DS: Yeah. In Madison's case, I thought from the very beginning she was in control of the entire game. I thought she was willing her teammates into the right spots. It's tough to play against that junk defense, half-court trap stuff which we've never seen. We spend a day physically on court preparing for it and working against it and another day just watching it on tape. Madi did a great of getting her teammates in the right spots. Offensively she initiated all of the possessions so the ball was moving in the right direction and we did a good job of moving the ball side to side and inside and out. We didn't catch it and hold it and start dribbling. I think Madi really set the tone for those possessions. She also stepped up and scored and she also played some pretty good defense.

Day Day is still not fully 100 percent from that knee and sometimes it bothers her, mores on her defensive side and then her rebounding. She was rebounding the ball really well for us and I think that knee has really took the spring out of her and in her mind it has kind of affected her shot.

We've been spending a lot more time just shooting the basketball lately in practice. Day Day got herself in the right spot and her teammates did a good job of getting her the ball and she knocked some shots down. Of course that's what you need your seniors to do. Two of the three really did a good job and the nights we have all three playing at a really high level I think we're a pretty good team. Jasmine Rutledge had another outstanding rebounding game, six offensive rebounds and two of them led to Danisha Corbett threes. What's she been able to do to improve in that area?
DS: I think her senior year she averaged about 20 rebounds per game, she's just an athlete. She's a high energy player, I call her the junkyard dog. If you jump over her fence she's going to chase you down. She's a competitor and she has a knack for the ball. She has really good timing and she's focused and she's working hard, she's going to beat you to a lot of balls. She's so wiry and springy and athletic that if you don't put your body on her and account for her she's going to outrun you and outjump you to the rebounds. Offensively she's really good and defensive rebounds she's getting better but she's solid there as well. When that kid figures out where her shots need to come from and just keep being aggressive in the lane trying to get shots she's going to be a real good player for us. It takes some time for some freshmen to really figure out where they fit in and she's found that spot.

The thing that we coaches talk about is that in our minds we'd be playing Jasmine and Camila [Rosen] together which was going to make us an even tougher defensive team and an even better defensive team and you'd have to kind of pick and choose who you were going to let shoot because both of them can score. That didn't happen. Jasmine has a little more work to do but she's doing real well for us. Another player that had limited minutes on Saturday but was incredibly effective was Ariella McGhee. She played six minutes in the second half but had four points, three rebounds and a steal.
DS: Yeah, she did well. With her it's just been a matter of her practicing better, her getting herself out there and competing harder and being more assertive and just playing harder. She's capable of doing those things for an extended period of time. her consistency and her effort everyday hasn't allowed her to play a lot of minutes and when she's gotten into the game she's made some mistakes and it just kind of goes that way. Is this the time for her to break out? We sure hope so. She's been practicing better, she's been listening better. It's growth. It takes kids time to adjust. She's got a chance to give us solid minutes.

I thought Malia [Magazzeni] did a good job with her minutes in the first half, played good defense when we needed her to. As long as we get those kids chipping in and focusing on the team and not getting so worried about what happens to them individually, all of them have a chance to really help us. Your team had a much better energy level the entire game against Utah State. You had a week off between the Fresno State game and the Utah State game but one of the things that hasn't been talked about much is that in the previous two weeks you've played six games and haven't had more than four days off between any game. It looked like your team was a lot more fresh on Saturday.
DS: Yeah and that's a very valid point. That trip to Hawai'i, it's tough. It really is. We moved the Nevada game which was going to be a Thursday game to Wednesday and so we lost a day there against a tough Nevada team and then you turn right around and go back out west to Fresno. That's a tough road. I was really encouraged and pleased with how we fought through our practices leading into that Utah State game.

With us it's not a question of being in condition or days off to rest, my concern with this team and I shared this with the team before the season started is how mentally tough are we going to be? How will we fight through adversity? Will we give in when something goes bad? Will we stop playing? We've had some instances where our mental toughness has let us down but we've also had nights where it's really helped us. We still have yet to determine how we want to be as a team. I know it's late in the season and that might sound strange but when you've gone through the injury bug like we have and the schedule, you're not able to set into a routine, this person is coming off the bench, this one is starting, we just haven't had that. Then when you couple in the travel it's put us in a tough spot. We've gotten through those first four league games at 2-2, we could have been 3-1 but it is what it is. Now it's what we do from here on out and how our players grow and if we show more mental toughness as we move forward. Most people probably understand physical fatigue but how does mental fatigue affect a team?
DS: When you're mentally tired, when you're just fatigued, it's hard to bring your energy level up. Yeah the travel in the WAC is tough and everybody has to do it but there are easier ways to fly into El Paso then there are to fly out of El Paso. When we went to Hawai'i we left the Pan Am parking lot at 3:30 in the morning to get to that 5:30 flight. So you're starting it off right there, your body clock is out of whack. Then you're going to Hawai'i where there's a three hour difference and it takes its toll on you and you're tired and you're sitting in the airport and that's where your mental toughness has to come in. But even saying that, you're going to get tired. Coaches are going to get tired, players are going to get tired, players are going to get on each others' nerves and everybody's going to get grumpy because you're in an airport all the time but it comes with the territory. I think your best ally is just how mature can you be? Yes you've got kids that have traveled before but then you have a group that hasn't and it just kind of catches up with you.

You're trying to practice, you're trying to get better with your chemistry but it catches up to you and it makes it hard to bring that physical energy and sometimes you just come out a little flat. Up next you have the trip out to Idaho where you'll take on Boise State and Idaho.
DS: It's a tough trip. Boise State on Thursday night, Boise has had some pretty solid runs in our league, they've won our league before, they've been champions so they know what that's about. They've got some new players, they're a big team. They're bigger than we are, they're a physical team. It just depends on whether it's a night where they're scoring the ball inside and out which makes them hard to beat.

Idaho, you've got a team that's playing at a pretty high level, they've got a lot of players back. They're solid and they play their zone defense really well. You have to hit your shots on them and they're athletic. They're not big like Boise, they're a lot more like us but their four and five players, Kloke and Oloruniffe are very skilled and cause problems for your post players. They can take you off the bounce, shoot it outside, they're active and they play well at home. It's a tough stretch.

If we can go in there and get a split that would be really helpful because we do have a favorable home schedule but after this it's Fresno and LA Tech twice so the competition level remains high. We just want to go out there and have some energy and really try to do a good job on Thursday night in Boise. If we can get that win, then whatever we do on Saturday is icing on the cake. We're just really focusing in on Boise right now. Heading into the games this weekend what are things you'll be working on with your team and what will you be looking for in terms of improvement?
DS: We still have to keep rebounding the ball better. Defensively we rebound it well at times but then at times we kind of disappear and our opponents get a good second shot which raises their field goal percentage. Then our careless turnovers, I always talk about how teams score on our offense because we'll throw a pass that makes no sense at all and it leads to their layup. You can't guard them when we do that.

Those two areas still remain our achilles heel. Offensively we've gotten so much better at executing and when we do and we're fresh our shots fall. We've got to get to the free throw line.

We've got to make sure that when we get fouled it's obvious and that we do get the calls and we're not just throwing shots up to throw them up. We want to make the other team foul us. If we can get 15 to 20 points from the free throw line that makes us that much tougher to beat.

You get fouled by how you execute your offense and by how aggressive you are.

The last thing is our defensive transition. we've been good a lot of games but then we've had games where we have one or two loafing back or not sprinting back and it affects the whole team defensive philosophy in a negative way. We've got to do a better job in that area.