bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's basketball head coach Darin Spence throughout the 2007/2008 season as the Aggies aim for the WAC Championship and Beyond. In this week's interview Coach Spence talks about the opening season win against UC-Irvine, grades the performances of two of his freshmen in their first Division I game, and how he feels about the long layoff before the Aggies' next game.
bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk a little bit about the season opener on Friday night?
Darin Spence:That was earning a victory on the road there, that was a tough game for a lot of different reasons. We played well, we came out with a lot of energy, we missed a bunch of early shots right in the lane. We knew we were getting good shots it was just a matter of settling in and making them. Defensively we played pretty well. We kept them off balance and gave them some fits and did some good things. We didn't get a call all night long so we had to play through adveristy and challenges. The kids did a good job of playing through it.
bc.net: You were able to survive a late run by the Anteaters after you had gotten up by 11 points, UCI got it to two points with about 2 1/2 minutes left. You also handled a run late in the first half after you had gotten up by 9 at the under 4 timeout. How important is it to not only get the win but to also win in a manner that eluded you last year as you mentioned giving up five or six games?
DS: It was so big, you can't measure it. It was huge for us. In all four of our years here, we've given games away because we couldn't close out. Sherrell [Neal] and Anikia [Jawara] competed tough all night long. Tyshae Walton did a good job for us. Madison running the point for us, had to play against 5'3" fast kid. She bothered her a little bit in the beginning but Madi did a great job of keeping the team composed. That is the big difference between this team and teams of past. I had a lot of people come up and tell me that after the game. She [Madison] kept us on an even keel, we never got too high, we never got too low. It's a big difference. We've got a young point guard who's well past her years in game experience. She's played in a lot of big games and she steps up to the plate when needed.
bc.net: You got exactly the kind of production out of Sherrell Neal and Anikia Jawara that you mentioned you need in our last interview, Sherrell had 19pts and 11rebs and Anikia had 16pts and 9rebs. Can you talk about their play a little bit?
DS: They do a great job of just battling. Anikia is playing a lot more composed this year. Last year she used to be up and down in games, things would get frantic and she'd lose her composure. This year she's matured and adjusted to a new year. She's gotten herself into great shape. She battled on Friday night. She had to battle through some interesting foul calls.
Sherrell is now in the 1,000 points club. She's one of those gamer type players, where you wish she would practice better but when lights come on she's ready to go. They've both been through battles. They're the ones who should be leading us.
bc.net: You went mainly with five players with Monique and Hannah getting 11 and 13 minutes and Danielle Stevens getting 7 minutes. Is that a product of the game and sticking with your hot players?
DS: Exactly, Hannah started for us, Brittany [Stephens] came off the bench. Hannah struggled a little bit, Brittany did some good things. With those five [Neal, Jawara, Walton, Spence, Henderson] it was a good group, we were much more athletic, much longer, and we seemed to be doing things well. Irma played two minutes and picked up early foul trouble. In the second half we had things going and had a good rotation, Monique [Bribiescas] gave us 11 good minutes, she took a huge charge late in game that swung momentum back in our favor when it looked like it could get away from us. She was very productive. We do need to get more production out of Danielle [Stevens], she will get better, that was her first real Division I game. To start in that environment is a big a wakeup call for her.
bc.net: Your defense was able to limit Irvine's shooting to 33% for the game and 23% in the first half, how would you rate your team's defensive play in the first game and what would you like to see them improve on?
DS: One, we played our man-to-man mostly in the first half, we did a really good job of being in the right position. Our length bothered them. They shot too many free throws, that's the only way they scored in the first half, otherwise we'd have been up 20+ points. We can't foul as much early on when we're trying to put separation between us and the other team. We bailed them out on a few possessions. At the end of the first half we went into a zone and we played a lot of zone in the second half. We did a good job of bouncing between zone and man-to-man.
We need to get much better at defensive rebounding. Right now we're darn good at getting the offensive rebounds.
From and offensive standpoint, if you look at the stat sheet is shows we had 26 turnovers, I don't think we had 26 turnovers. But we want to average around 12 turnovers a game. Our forwards turned the ball over too many times.
bc.net: Madison had 8 points and 6 assists to only 2 turnovers, how would you rate her first game against Div. I competition?
DS: I thought it went well for her. She didn't shoot well. I think she was a little anxious, she was kind of rushing some shots. She had some open shots and she'll make those as we move down the stretch. She did good job. She had to play against a fast kid in their 5'3" point guard. In the second half I think Madi got tired of her and just overpowered her and jumped over her and got fouled. Her shooting percentage will get better. She hit two huge free throws for us and then missed a couple late in the game. It was a good floor game, she kept them composed when we could have gotten rattled. She kept us in what we were doing. Defensively she has to concentrate better, she's got to realize it's Division I and not high school.
bc.net: Danielle Stevens also had a pretty good debut with 8 points and 10 rebounds but had 6 turnovers, what can you tell us about her game and what kind of production are you looking to get out of her?
DS: She's gotta be our physical type banger that can get us some points. She looked a little rattled, maybe some of the early calls that went against her were a factor. She did a good job of going to the boards. She just needs to adjust to speed of the level of play in Division I. When we played the two exhibition games and then a Division I game there's a jump up in talent level and physical play. She'll be fine, we need her to rebound and get points around the basket. For her its a matter of feeling comfortable. But we need her to help with depth inside.
bc.net: You've got a pretty good break before your next game which is on Nov. 20th, what are you going to be working on during that time off and how do you keep your team in the flow after having played the two exhibition games and the season opener only four days apart each game or is it a good break before your play seven games in about three weeks?
DS: It's not something I wanted to do. We've got the volleyball tourney this week so we couldn't play here and I certainly don't want to play another game on road. We're just a victim of having no place to play in. It's not ideal but it will give us time. We're in pretty good conditioning shape and we'll get in better shape over next few days. We'll revisit things defensively, work on rotations, offensively we just spent some time being able to flow from the break to halfcourt stuff. Overall execution. We'll use it to our advantage. We'll practice, then have a day or two off then come back and practice. When we come back our kids will be eager to play.
Our teams over the years have been good coming off a break. We've got a huge stretch of I think six home games. We'll take some good steps and everyone healthy is healthy now. We've got a chance to hit ground running with home games and make statement early here in the season.
At same time there are some pretty good teams that we'll be playing. UTEP, UNM and the Thanksgiving tourney, it'll be a challenge.