bleedCrimson.net: Like you’ve had with a lot of your teams, you’ve got a young team but you’ve got a lot of young players who got a lot of playing time last year so even though they’re young in terms of their class, they’re not young in terms of their experience. What are you expecting to see from those sophomores and juniors.
Tamara Inoue: With the young ones, our freshmen last year played a lot last year, Moriah Mack especially along with Tyler Ellis and Brianna Freeman, those three got a lot of quality minutes. Tamera Williams also had spurts of minutes but it’s interesting. That was probably the first time Coach Trakh and I have been through with a team with no seniors and playing such a young group. Even our young players, Sasha [Weber] and Abby [Scott] playing a lot of minutes, that was new for us too. To watch them from one year to the next, with all the playing time they got from one year to the next and then the run they had in the tournament, the mindset coming in this summer to preseason to now is like night and day. The maturity level, the hard work, to finishing plays. Doing what you ask them to do, knowing they need to go hard because that’s what they’re going to see every day in games. It’s interesting to watch that with just one year of difference.
Now we still have a long way to go and they’re still young and there is always going to be slippage but just watching them hold each other accountable… Last year they kind of let a lot of things go because they didn’t want to hurt each others’ feelings, they wanted to be liked, this year it’s more business. It’s been cool to see because that’s what we always push. We always tell them, we push you hard in practice, it’s going to be hard come game time but you’re going to be ready for it. We push them very hard so they’re able to take it and they’re able to understand why we’re doing it.
Sasha and Abby, Sasha especially, she started for us both years and she’ll start for us again her junior year. She’s probably the most experienced player we have. For her to come in with the leadership that she has, that’s been fun too because not a lot of kids get to start and play all three years. Sasha has been able to walk into that role. She’s the most composed player we have. She’s calm and really keeps us together. That’s been really good too.
bc.net: What would you like to see specifically from Sasha and Abby with them being the two player who are the offensive leaders of the team?
TI: For Sasha, she’s been doing a good job the last couple of years. She’s probably our most consistent player even when we had Stephanie Gilbreath and Danesia [Williamson] and Kelsie and Camila, I still think she’s been our most consistent player. So for Sasha, what I’d like to see is to elevate it just a little higher. Bring your percentage up a little more, if you’re averaging 12, average 15. If you’re getting three steals, get four steals, if you’re getting three rebounds, get six. I’m asking her to elevate her game a little higher. We don’t expect you to put us on your shoulders and ride us out but we do expect your numbers to be a little bit better. You have the experience behind you. Defensively we need her to be a lot better. She’s got to defend better.
Abby’s biggest deal, her only thing she’s focusing on right now is being consistent. Showing up every game and giving us consistent numbers. You cannot come and have a record breaking game and then the next night show up and do nothing for us. That’s Abby’s biggest thing. That kid is working extremely hard right now and doing all the extra things she needs to do. Abby in my opinion is the best shooter in the conference, she’s the best shooter on our team bar none but she just really needs to get that consistency in a game and believe in it because she can shoot the lights out.
bc.net: What do each of the newcomers bring to this young team?
TI: Shanice Davis came from McLennan Junior College, she was a transfer. She’s a point guard. Biggest thing for her and what she’s brought to this team right away is competition. She’s very competitive. She’s been very competitive with our kids and pushed our kids very hard. She’s a natural leader. She leads by example and she demands greatness from everybody everyday. Shanice’s leadership is what we’ve been missing and her ability to compete. She sees the floor and she’s a great point guard. She’s been at a very competitive level where she’s not going to bow down to anybody and she’s very aggressive.
Kassandra Harris, another junior college transfer but she’s a sophomore. She’s coming from New Mexico Junior College, she’s an All-American. Same thing with her. Her ability to play hard all the time, that kid is not going to get played off. Her aggression and just ability to compete has really elevated our practices. You have her and Shanice, they have this fire behind them and mediocrity is not in their vocabulary. That’s been really fun to watch. Kassandra is around the basket, she’s very aggressive. At the JUCO level, aggressiveness leads to fouls. In our first closed scrimmage she fouled a lot and she’s making that adjustment right now. You’ll love watching her, you’ll love watching them both but Kassandra is beast down there.
As far as the newcomers coming in that are freshmen, Zaire Williams from Santa Maragrita HS, she’s our backup point guard right now. She’s still a freshman learning the game but her skill level is very, very good. She can shoot the ball. Defensively she’s average but she’s getting better. She sees the court very well. She can really, really see the floor. Coming off ball screens is what we need and Zaire is going to be able to fill that role for us.
Emily Hardin is a shooter. She’s a kid who is a pure shooter for us right now but she’s got to work on everything else behind it. So right now she’s working on her speed, understanding the offense, understanding the defense. She’ll take a while for us but when she goes in, we’re going to get her a shot right away. That’s what Emily’s role is going to be right now. It’ll change through the season.
Jasmine Cooper from Dallas, she’s 5-10, very athletic. She plays her butt off, has a midrange shot, really, really good defensively, does a very good job for us. We’re looking for her to be an aggressive rebounder, rebound and put back, dribble-drive, staying down low and cleaning up for us. That athleticism that she has, she needs to use it.
bc.net: Last year you relied heavily on the three point shot and some nights it went in and some nights it didn’t. Obviously you’ve had to adapt to the personnel you have and it being a case of not having a lot of post presence. What are you looking for style-wise from your team this year?
TI: Pretty much the same thing. I know the three point ball is something we throw up a lot but I think adding Kassandra and having Brianna Freeman and Tyler Ellis elevate their game this summer and get in the weight room and work on their skills, we’re going to have three bodies inside and then Bradley Nash will join us midseason again. Last year was the first year running it so first shot open shot, we kind of gave them the confidence of first open shot to take it. This year we definitely have toned it down and have made it a little more structured as far as the way we rack it. We have some athletes, Moriah Mack and Tamera Williams, those two are ridiculous athletes and can get to the rack at any time for a layup. We’ve really been pushing them to drive it in there so we don’t heavily rely on the three point shot. We’ll still shoot a lot of threes. This offense is designed for our guards to put up numbers.
The difference and the thing we’ve really been exercising is the defense. It’s all well and good that we can shoot the ball, some nights are good and some nights are not, but if we can’t stop them on the defensive end, there’s no hope for us improving. We’ve got to stop allowing teams to come in here and get career highs. A lot of players we allowed to get career highs against us last year and that’s something we’re not going to accept this year.
bc.net: Defensively with so many new and young players, you hear coaches talk a lot about the toughest thing to get a kid to do as an underclassman is to get them to play defense the way you want them to play defense. How has the team done in the preseason learning to play defense the way you want them to?
TI: It’s exactly what you said, that’s kind of what we’re going through too but you know, they’re trying and they’re playing hard. We really want to go ten deep. Last year we only went seven and I think we do have three extra bodies to be able to go ten. Our sell to them is play hard and we’ll get you out. Our sell in trying to get them to play hard all the time is, you give me two or three full minutes and you’re coming out. I just need you to go really, really hard defensively, lock them up, do your job and we’ll get you out and then we’ll get you right back in. That’s been our sell to the kids and it seems to be working. We’re going to mix it up too. We sell a lot of success on our press and so we’re looking to press a lot more too. To keep them engaged and to get them to do what we want them to do we’ve decided to change it up as much as we can.
bc.net: When you look at the schedule this year and you look at conference play, you lose Idaho to the Big Sky, Seattle finally graduated Kacie Sowell so you don’t have to deal with her anymore as a league, the WAC feels like it’s there for anyone to take.
TI: Bakersfield is still going to be tough, I know Utah Valley had a pretty bad loss the other night but don’t sleep on Utah Valley. Seattle lost their big three but Joan is a great coach. Grand Canyon, they lost all their seniors, I don’t know who they have coming in. It’s still going to be a good conference but it is wide open but it’ll depend on how conference ahakes out. I don’t know how Chicago State is going to look, UMKC as well, I don’t know who they have coming in. With this conference, every night you have to be ready do play. Some games last year in conference I really felt we let slip. We shouldn’t have lost some of those games. I think came with maturity and just showing up every day. I don’t know if our kids were ready to do that. They know that, they know it hurt us in conference and in our seeding in the tournament and that’s not the way we want to be positioned and I think this year with them understanding that role, we’ll show better in conference and be prepared every night. Because the nights we showed up we played great. The nights we didn’t show up, we lost. I think Bakersfield is going still going to be a tough one and I think Pan Am is still going to be a tough one but again, I wouldn’t sleep on anybody else. It’s going to be interesting but I would say that with what we have back and what we didn’t lose, top three is within our reach.
bc.net: You open up tomorrow night [Friday] at UTEP. In addition to it being a rivalry game, it’s also a team that’s coming off one of their best seasons ever, they made it all the way to the championship game of the postseason WNIT.
TI: I think it’s a good test right away. We’ve been pushing them pretty hard, the kids have been working hard. Keitha is a great coach and does a fantastic job down there. We know we can never and not be prepared. They did lose Vitola and Thornton which is a big loss for them but they’re very guard heavy like us. They have a lot of guards and they’re athletic like us. I think it’s going to be a battle. We’re both very athletic and we both move very well. It’s going to come down to making shots and getting stops. We’ve got to come out second half. We always seem to play UTEP in the first half pretty close and then second half they keep going at us and blowing us out. We can’t just let them come out and walk all over us. It’s going to be a very good test for us.
bc.net: Then Tuesday and Thursday of next week you go out to Boise who has been a pretty good program and then you head out to Sacramento State.
TI: Boise State runs a very similar offense to what we run. It’s going to be another track meet with them. They got picked second in the Mountain West and they have the Preseason Player of the Year. They’re a very good team. Last year we split, they won one and we won one and we’re going to play them there and it’s tough to play them there. It’s going to come down to defense for us in both games. They run well. Gordy does a great job of transition. I know he drills that transition. He’s always been a transition drive. He runs a dribble drive like we do and so he really pushes hard. We’re going to have to get back and we’re going to have to defense and push it back on them. That’s going to be a good test for us. Plus they have a transfer from Oregon and a transfer from Purdue coming in.
We fly out that next day and head to Sac St. If you’ve seen Sac St. play, they love to run that score up to 100. They had 135 the other night. They are a pressing and running team the entire game. We’re going to have to be ready for that one too. There’s not going to be a lot of structure in the next two games after UTEP. There’s not going to be a lot of structure in the offenses we’re going to see. It’s going to be a fitness test for us. It’s about us being composed enough to run our stuff. We cannot get into a track meet with them. We have got to be able to run our stuff.
bc.net: As you’ve seen your team through the preseason practices. What is one thing you think your team does well and what is one thing they don’t do well right now but you hope as the season progresses that they get better at?
TI: The best thing we have right now is our offense. We can really shoot the ball. We’re really shooting the ball really well.
Our biggest weakness and we’re always working on it is our on-ball defense. Our on-ball ability to contain. We tend to stand and let people get by us. With the new rules coming in from last year they’re really worried about picking up fouls but they’ve got to understand that they can’t just let them get to the basket. They’ve got to show some resistance. We’ve been working on it but you’ll see our weakness is our on-ball defense. We’ve got to keep working on that.