Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/21/07 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 home opening win against Kent State, fills us in on his three signees and what to expect from this weekend's Thanksgiving Classic opponents. Can you talk a little bit about the game last night.
Darin Spence: The big picture is we played a team that the coach has been there long time, they've got a system in place and they're a solid team. We took them out of things they like to do, the defensive effort was solid most of the night and it set tone for the evening. Offensively for us, they had zone defense, we played against zone for first time this season. Once we got going, we found holes and our inside people passed it out and the shooters hit shots. You had a little bit of a slow start offensively, most shots long, is that something that happens when a team has a long layoff, they come out and most of their shots are strong?
DS: Yeah, no question, after you've been off a while, the kids fail to really read defense and what shots are open. Anikia [Jawara] and Sherrell [Neal] struggled early, they wanted to come out and dominate early instead of taking what defense gave them. And the guards were excited and wanted to play. We have a team that expects to beat everybody they play, they just need to have patience and have the understanding that it's a 40 minute game. The team played really good defense forcing 6 turnovers in first 5 minutes of game, including a five second inbounding call, how instrumental was that in keeping the Aggies close while your players got back into the flow offensively?
DS: It's very important, that's probably the number one thing on our priority list. We talk about it all the time, until our offensive side kicks in, we've gotta play tough defense and keep other team scoreless, making it as difficult for the offense as possible.

If we play good solid defense, every high level team that has won, has had a solid defense and the teams that just try to just outscore everyone usually end up losing. The entire game the defense was really making them work hard for their shots and it drove the shot clock down to four or five seconds a lot of times, what were you able to do to them that just bothered them so much?
DS: I think the biggest addition to our team on defense this season is our length on the perimeter, we're athletic, and we're so much longer than in years past. It slows down passes into the post, we're not the biggest team inside and having more length on the perimeter we get a lot of hands on balls. Working hard on perimeter, keeping the dribble in front of us, we're rotating to the ball a lot better on drives, that's where it all starts. We're just longer on the perimeter. What it reminds me a lot of is during our first couple of seasons here when we played UNM, they were so long they couldn't get shot off. This team reminds me a lot of that UNM team. You were able to limit their big inside Anna Kowalska to a very quiet 19 point game, what were you able to do to neutralize her?
DS: I thought we did a good job inside of bothering her with how athletic we are. Our guards did good job of helping in the post and getting back out to the shooter. We frustrated her, although she got some help, she shot 17 free throws, we wore her down so much, she missed some free throws. We kept her off rebounds for the most part, I think she only had four. I thought we were relentless, she knew where we were at, she's a good player, she does a pretty good job, I watched her tapes from her first two games, she can score. Anikia [Jawara], Carla [Denning], Danielle [Stevens] and Sherrell [Neal] all had good position on her and I thought we did a real good job. There were a lot of offensive rebounds in the game (20), you really seemed to break their will.
DS: I always talk about getting lead, breaking people's will, not letting them even think about coming back and the easy way to do that is rebounding, we've got to be great rebounding team. We've always great offensive rebounding team and and average rebounding team. We're doing better on the defensive boards, there's a sense of urgency on defensive rebounds and it allows us to get out and run, that's what this group likes to do. Offensively, you get extra possessions, our girls know if you miss a shot you've got to chase the ball down. When you make a team defend you two and three possessions in a row it really wears them out. The team committed a few turnovers early but Kent State got 0 points off of them, is that something that is more uncommon than it is common?
DS: It's important, we've talked a lot about getting easy baskets, our teams in the past haven't had a lot. We've tried to spend a lot of time in practice on that. Scoring off other teams turnovers, defensive transition, if you miss a shot or turn it over, we talk about if you make a mistake on one end making up for that mistake on the other end. If you turn the ball over, you better get back and make up for it. There's offense, defense and what I like to call special teams which are the inbounds plays, the free throw situations, if you can take care of those areas and come out on the plus side on those three you've got a chance to win a lot of games. KSU got it down to 11 a couple of times but it seemed like every time they would make a run, your defense would get a stop and create a fast break or one of your seniors would hit a big shot, Monique only had 6 points but both threes were at key times in the game, one in the first half when it was close and one in the second half that kinda put the final nail in the coffin to put you back up by 19 after they had gotten the lead down.
DS: That's been our chore for the last four years, we finally have seniors who have been through two WAC championship games, they're using those experiences in the right way at right time, like at Irvine, we didn't let them take the game like we have in years past, it's an example of maturity and experience. A couple of our younger players, like Madison [Spence], have been through a lot of big games, they understand importance of taking possessions being efficient.

We've learned not to give a game away, when to step up and make a stop, when to make the right pass, when to run the right offense. Your 35-17 at halftime was your largest first half cushion, what's your mindset when you come out in the second half with a big lead like that, how difficult is it to keep the foot on the gas?
DS: It's a challenge. You know, I talked to our team at halftime about that. In their other games, Kent State was close to being even or scored more in the second half than their opponents. They're a better second half team. When you come out and think we want to develop our depth, sometimes you lose your rhythm putting other kids in there, it's a roll of the dice, if you played opt to play seven kids could make that 18 point lead turn into a 30 point win, but at the same time we don't want to get into the situation we've had in the past with no depth and wearing kids out. You just hope the other kids play with efficiency, we had some rough moments but at same time they've learned and we'll be better down the stretch because of it. You signed three players last week in the early signing period, Guard Taylor Altenburg, guard Kaitlyn Soto and forward Tabytha Wampler, what can you tell us about them?
DS: First of all they're all great people, they'll be great addition to program.

Kaitlyn Soto is a team running point guard. She a fesity, tough, hard nosed kid. She plays at Mater Dei which is one of the more well known high schools in California. She plays on the Cal Swish club program which is one of top two club teams in the country, she knows how to play, she'll be that replacement for Monique [Bribiescas].

Taylor Altenburg is 6 foot, long kid who shoots ball really well, she keeps our length up on perimeter, she'll step in and take Irma's [Kmataite-Smith] place.

Tabytha Wampler is another 6 foot long and athletic kid and is Carla's [Denning] replacement, she a more skilled player that can play the 3 (small forward] and 4 (power forward). She gets out and runs, her high school team had good volleyball team, she jumps well, runs well, we think all three will come in and continue depth and push for playing time. You've got a couple of days off for Thanksgiving and then you play Northern Colorado and Texas State in the Thanksgiving Classic. UNC and TSU are both coming off of big wins, UNC beat their in-state rival CSU for the first time in 18 or 19 years and then Texas State beat Concordia by a pretty wide margin. What can you tell us about both of those teams and what do they do well and what do you think you can do against them?
DS: Northern Colorado is a team who is trying to grow and improve, they feel they've had a good recruiting class, a couple of their kids were on our recruiting list that we decided to pass on. I'm sure that'll give them more excitement playing against us. They're a solid team, a lot like what we just played with Kent State and UC-Irvine. They've got a quick little point guard, a good big inside, they're a lot like what we've seen in the past two games.

Texas State is more like us, they had success last year in their conference and they're looking to take next step in their league.

It'll be challenging, back to back games, three games in a week, we'll really have to rely on our depth, play solid defense, get out and run, get out in full court and make them chase us.