bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 03/01/11

bleedCrimson.net: A big road win on Saturday at Nevada, your team's back was against the wall and you fought back and notched a very good road win.
Darin Spence: Yeah no question about that. It's much much bigger than what we realized at the time just because of what we had to go through in the week. It was our third game in that week and two on the road. It wasn't a very kind stretch for us. We practiced Sunday, Kaitlyn Soto gets hurt. We turn around and play Fresno [Monday] we play a tough game there and then we didn't practice again until Wednesday night, played at Utah State who's playing as well as anybody in our league and plays differently than anybody else. We're short on guards again, could have played a little bit better but still competed. Then after that game we were pretty drained and just a beat up team. We didn't even practice before we played Nevada. We had a little shootaround that morning and I think played probably our best game of the year. Kaitlyn came back and played and gave us some good minutes. Madi was sick, she's been sick. Jasmine Lowe played really well and everybody else kind of fit in and did their piece and got a huge win. It was just a great atmosphere there. Nevada had a good crowd, they had a lot of fun things going on, it was just a fun atmosphere and our kids competed and played their backsides off and it was a great win for us.

bc.net: Your team trailed a few times in that game and was able to fight back which was impressive considering it was your third game that week and things hadn't been going quite your way basically the last three weeks.
DS: You know I think it just shows that our team recommitted themselves to playing defense. We talked after the Utah State game that we hadn't been playing any defense. We've just been trying to score but what I've done over the 25 years in my career is we've always defended. This team has had stretches where we did okay in certain games but in an overall big picture we haven't defended like we should have, like we needed to. That was kind of the main topic of conversation after the Utah State game. Whatever happens on the offensive end, you've gotta buckle down and just be a lot tougher on that defensive end and get stops and get rebounds. For the most part of that Nevada game we did a much much better job and we forced them into their lowest shooting percentage game of the year and our positioning was good, our help was good. You can always rebound the ball better but we got timely rebounds and stops and that right there is what gave us a chance and kept us from getting too much when they did take a lead and it also allowed us to increase our lead late in the game. I think that's where it all goes to right there. We just recommitted to defending the way I have always wanted our team to defend.

bc.net: Your victory on Saturday is looking more impressive nice Nevada handed Louisiana Tech their first conference loss of the season last night. Nevada's win sealed the top four spots in the conference race. With these final two regular season games coming up, how does the team avoid a little bit of a letdown knowing that they'll finish either fifth or sixth regardless of the way these two games turn out?
DS: We as coaches won't tell our players. There's no sense in us even talking about that. I'll bet you only one player from our team even knew the game was on t.v., let alone watched it. It's just business as usual. The way our team has been, we can't even think about talking about "if we do this and if we do that and if this happens or that happens." We've been such day to day in the inconsistency of our own team, it's a challenge all to itself. We're just worrying about the Idaho game and not even the second game. It's just game to game and you try to keep playing well down the stretch. It's all about the tournament. In our league it's all about the tournament. We've said that for years now. The only way we're going to get two teams into NCAA tournament is if somebody beats Louisiana Tech in the finals. That's it. I'm sure Louisiana Tech is going to get an at-large anyway. A couple of the other teams will probably get an invitation to the NIT, Nevada, maybe Utah State. You've gotta be .500 or over to be invited to the NIT. Unless we go on a tear here and wins some games, that removes us right away. Our whole lifeline is just what we can do in the tournament. We can still finish fifth which would be exactly where we finished last year. It would be a step above where we were picked to finish this year. For us it just goes back to one home game with Hawai'i. That's the one that just sticks in your throat. That's the one that kind of keeps us from being able to move up the ladder. We are where we are right now. We've just gotta try to keep making the most of it and keep trying to play well and keep our kids healthy and make a little run once we make it to Vegas.

bc.net: Outside of the Hawai'i game your team hasn't really been playing that poorly and the Nevada game was first time you've gotten to see a good result. Do you think that the Nevada game can be a turning point for this team to go on a little bit of a run.
DS: Yeah, no question. It could be. That's the million dollar question. We'll keep plugging away and see how this team responds when we get back to practice today. Women's basketball as a whole in general is a really inconsistent sport. Just think back to the national championship game last year with Stanford and UConn and the score was like 17-12 or 19-14 at the half. It's not just us. Look at the Nevada/LA Tech game last night. It's just a crazy deal. I will tell today where our team really sees themselves. We talked about it after the Nevada win. What do we do now, where do we go now? This was the accepted effort for us. That was success for us. Not so much the win but just playing that way and giving yourself a chance. Our season as been interesting but a lot of teams across the country have been in the same boat. It's interesting, if you go to every league and count how many teams that are actually over .500. You'd be amazed at the number of teams, especially outside of those BCS conferences. Just look at how few teams are .500 or better as an overall record. I did that a couple times and it's just staggering to see how many teams are in the same boat as us. I think the talent level, all the bigger schools have the players, we have a few. There's very little parity and that just leads to inconsistency. You're trying to make players better and try to fit them together, then you throw in injuries where you never know which team is going to play and you can't get that chemistry going. It's a tough deal. For our team right now we're excited. We've got two games, we've played some good basketball throughout the year. Yes that Hawai'i loss at home was a tough one but look what it came after. We played LA Tech back to back, as a coach I could see that flat game coming but we still had a chance to win that one. Can we rise up? Can we get it together? I think this team is capable, we could win the WAC tournament if we'll use this as a springboard and start really playing the way we all know we can play. I really think we can win the tournament.

bc.net: On Thursday you take on Idaho and your team has struggled lately with Idaho losing the last six games against them. What about the way they play has caused your team problems?
DS: You know the biggest thing is mistakes made. We've made more mistakes than them. This year at Idaho we were in a position and could have won that game. We didn't shoot it real well and made some mistakes. I think the achilles heel of our team is we make mistakes at the wrong time and make them in bunches. We'll go four straight trips and try to make a home run play and the ball gets thrown away or we lose the ball. More importantly it leads directly to points for the opponent. They score off our offense. We do it in a way that we can't even set our defense up. That's going to make your defensive field goal percentage worse, it makes their field goal percentage better because they're shooting runout layups on you or free throws. We've done that against Idaho maybe more than any other team we've played in our league play. Last year the three times we played them we were in a position where we could have won all three games. But that ugly turnover monster rears its head at the wrong time. It's something we've got to clean up. We've got to play against them and attack them when they play their zone. We can't just settle for shots. We've got to do a better job of inside-out and reversing the ball and then stepping into a shot and having confidence. We defended okay, we rebounded okay it was just untimely brain-dead mistakes we make on the offensive end.

bc.net: Saturday you take on Boise State who you beat fairly handily in Boise but as you've mentioned, your team hasn't done well in the second meetings against teams you've beaten the first time around.
DS: Yeah, that's a mindset. I don't know why it is, it just is. Boise is going to be a hungry team and it may turn out to where we have to play Boise on Saturday and then have to turn around and play them again on Wednesday just depending on where we finish. It's looking right now that's what could happen. Boise is a big team, there strength is their inside game. They have one guard that scores but their strength is definitely their inside play. They do a great job of high-low basketball and jump over you and rebound it. They cause a lot of problem with their post play. They're one of those teams, who knows. Will they really decide to crank it up and get in that tournament win a game or two? If we were to do that and say beat them Saturday and then turn around and have to play them Wednesday, then you're looking at the old third time thing on a neutral court then it would really test the maturity of our team. We've just got to play solid basketball no matter who it is or where it is and play possession by possession and win every possession whether its getting a stop of defense and getting a rebound or getting a good shot on the offensive end. We talk about the faceless opponent. It doesn't matter who they are, what color jerseys they have on. It's all about us and what we can do.

bc.net: Saturday is senior day for you. What will the emotions be like for you when Madison suits up for the final time at home?
DS: It won't hit me until after the game. We've got a game to win. I won't really fully think about that until whenever our season ends. You've got a special situation, it's a situation nobody can understand unless they were actually in our position. She's going to leave here as one of the best players to ever play here and somebody that I believe has been undervalued in our program. We've got two other seniors that have done really good work here in Danisha Corbett and Jasmine Lowe. There's the three of them who are really big parts of our team. All three of them are going to be missed.

bc.net: Obviously there are quite a few but share one favorite moment for each of the three seniors.
DS: With Day Day [Danisha Corbett], seeing her grow up and mature over the years, she's just a really young kid. Her birthday is in November and she's really young for her grade level. Seeing her overall maturity, seeing her reach a 3.0 GPA in her classroom work when it was something that wasn't her strong suit back in high school, just seeing her maturity and accept things that we want her to do on the basketball floor and knowing that there's always still room for improvement but that's probably the biggest reward for me with her.

Jasmine Lowe has only been here two years but she's added a lot of spark to us. She's really had herself and her career tested the first year. Her junior year when she was here she wasn't doing things in the right way and it almost caught up to her. She really woke up this last summer and made a turn for the better and is solid in the classroom and has just kind of matured herself and allowed herself to be a good teammate and play some good basketball for us.

Of course with Madi it's just been a roller coaster with the injuries and sickness and pounding she takes every game. With her being a July birthday and being young for her grade, just seeing her mature and seeing her have the will to carry the Las Cruces community on her back and say I'm here to represent my hometown and do it in a great way.

All three of them are special people.

bc.net: Danisha Corbett eclipsed the 1,000 point milestone. You've have two players in the last two years, Madison and Danisha, to do that and Danisha hits the 1,000 point mark after playing very sparingly as a freshman.
DS: Yeah, after that year, the next three years she's probably been close to averaging 10 points per game. It just goes to show you that if you play minutes and you average 10 points you can reach the 1,000 point club. To do that you have to be focused, you have to be healthy for the most part and not miss a lot of games. She's always been one of the better shooters around. Her ballhandling has improved so it's allowed her to do some different things and keep her defenders honest. You leave her open, even if she's semi-open she's got a chance to get her shot off and more times than not that ball has a really good chance of going in the basket. It's nice to see those kids reach those milestones. That's what people judge players on and she's the 18th player in the history to do it and you can never take those things away from a player. I'm proud for her and proud that she did it under our watch.