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 two wins in the Thanksgiving Classic, talks about the depth of his team and talks about the two rivalry games this week.
bleedCrimson.net: You had a very successful Thanksgiving Classic, your team was tested twice but was able to win both games. Can you first talk a little bit about the game against Northern Colorado. You went into halftime leading by ten got up by 12 early and then Northern Colorado took the lead under 30 seconds, can you walk us through the play calls in the final 30 seconds?
Darin Spence: Even before that, one thing we had not done before, that is start well in the second half. We're in a new position, we haven't led much at the halftime breaks. That's something else we have to get used to doing, playing with the lead. Down stretch we'd miss shots and we keep plugging away on offense, we kept telling them we'd a get chance to score. I was pleased how we didn't cave when they took the lead, we held our composure and we pulled the game out. The players did a good job of executing. We wanted to go inside, Madison turned the corner and Tyshae [Walton] was wide open, caught it and made the shot. That led to us getting a good defensive stop, they fouled Brittany Stevens and she made two big free throws. The kids did good job of stepping up. You either have players who control the situation, or you have kids where the situation can control them. I think our kids are ones that step up to the challenge.
bc.net: Everyone that played scored except for Irma Kmataite-Smith who only played four minutes, has her lack of scoring been due to her getting back into game conditioning after having basically a year and a half off of real time?
DS: I think it has everything to do with it. She has to get back into the competitiveness of the game and adjust to the speed of the game. It's been a while since she's played in games with that speed and intensity. Also, we're not the same team now that she played with back then. We've got a lot better players which makes more difficult for her to get playing time, if she's struggling, we don't have to have her out there. But she'll come around she's too smart and too good a player.
bc.net: Your defense was able to hold UNC without a field goal for the final 8:21 of the first half what were you able to do to them that held them without a basket for that stretch?
DS: We got them standing around, we matched up pretty well with them. We stopped their penetration, their point guard Whitley Cox was really good, she was a handful, she was so quick and drove past us and it passed out early on. We mixed up the defense and played man and zone, we kept them off balance and rebounded missed shots.
bc.net: In your win against Texas State, you trailed for a good portion of the first half before taking a 3 point lead into the first half and then held a pretty comfortable lead for the remainder of the second half. What did you see out of your team that you liked playing from behind in the first half and what would you like to see them improve on?
DS: Through the first half, a lot of things that were going on were missed shots. We were taking decent shots but we missed six or seven layups and putbacks. They didn't let it get them frustrated, I told them to fight through it and if we'd get the same shots we'll be fine. In the first half Texas State hit some tough runners, off balance shots and banked threes, I really felt like we took their best shot, we just had to hold on and be solid. When you play games where the other team comes out and is and making shots, you can't get frustrated and go away from what you've done and been successful at. I thought our, kids had done a good job of staying the course.
bc.net: In the two games you played 10 and 11 players, how nice is it to have that kind of depth and how do you balance the playing time with having 11 or 12 players that can suit up and play for you at any time and give you quality minutes?
DS: It's huge and along the way, in the non-conference games, we're going to develop our bench. Our bench has outscored our opponents, we're getting lot of points from the bench. It takes the pressure off our starting group, we don't have to have one player who has to score all the points like in times past. It lets everyone relax, they know they have help, it also keeps the minutes down. When I feel someone playing better than someone else I can leave them in there.
bc.net: How much help was that depth playing games on back to back days and three times in a week
I think it helped us a great deal, we're in really good shap and we're getting stronger, that helps. Our altitude really hit Texas State, they hit the wall a few times and got tired. It didn't bother Northern Colorado because they're used to playing in it. Depth, it lets everyone have a little more comfort level, if they play as hard as they can play for a stretch they know someone can come in and give blow and then they can get back in. It helps in practice and it's tougher to gameplan against.
bc.net: You still seem to be lacking that one or two real good three point shooters, although when you have made them, they've been very timely, is that something that you're working on with your shooters or is that something that will work itself out as the season progresses?
DS: It's just a timing thing. In years past we've shot all those threes because we couldn't score anywhere else, we lived and died by it. In the WAC tourney both years we made shots, and then against Louisiana Tech the year before and Boise State last year in the championship game we missed those shots, we had to live or die by it. We don't have to have as many threes this year because we're getting more points in transition, we're getting second chance points and we don't have to need to make a bunch of threes. Our threes have been more timely threes with this team, as we grow together and offense gets into a rhythm we'll get better and we'll start making those shots.
bc.net: Wednesday marks the start of a tough four game stretch for you, two games against UTEP, one against UNM and one against BYU. UTEP had a game cancelled against Nevada so they have a little extra rest not having to play back to back games and then come back three days later to play you, what can we expect from them?
DS: They have a lot of experience, they had a really good year last year and they want to build off of it. It's gonna be good, they're one of best teams on our schedule. They have a lot of confidence trying to score, they'll come after us. It's a rival game so the intensity is higher, the players play harder, we expect a good effort from them [UTEP]. We're 4-0 and the schedule is laid out so we get better teams as we move on, we have confidence, but at the same time we could play really well and be 4-4. I don't think that's going to happen, our kids ready for challenge, we know who we are as a team.
bc.net: Obviously every game counts the same in the win/loss column but I have to believe that there's a little extra juice for the game on Sunday against UNM? Besides being a rivalry game, they've beaten NMSU 24 straight times, you had a couple of close calls two years ago. What will be the difference this year and how do you match up with them better this year than in years past?
DS: Well, i think we're a better team overall, overall we have a better chance, it's not really one area. Our goal is to be the best team in the state and to do that we've gotta beat UNM. Our kids will be hungry, our kids and the new kids think they can beat anyone, anywhere, any time, that's our thought process. We're going to approach it same way, this week we've got two rival games, it'll be a tough week. When the time comes we'll give UNM some thought, but we really haven't talked about it except after the game last week we talked about being that team that breaks through and beats them for first time. The point has come where we're tired of it, we've got to fight our way out of that rotten situation.
bc.net: What can we expect from them as a team, are they doing anything differently, I know one of their key players was injured in the offseason.
DS: They've got their best players back, Dionne Marsh, Brandi Kimble. They've got a sophomore poing guard who's playing a lot of minutes. They're off this entire week, we have to worry about two games, they get to just worry about us. They're taking us very very seriously right about now, as they should. They have New Mexico on the front of their jerseys and as good as they are, they play solid basketball, it'll be a tough test for us. It's a tough stretch but if we can get out of week with our head above water we'll feel really good about ourselves.