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 last the last two games against Colorado State and Idaho, their game tomorrow against Utah Valley State and talks about the player who he thinks can be an X-Factor heading into conference play.
bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk a little bit about the last two games with Colorado State and Idaho, two teams that have struggled, but I thought your team played focused and were able to get the wins?
Darin Spence: Colorado State in our previous game, is a team that had been doing some good things and getting better and they just hadn't found what they do well, they'd been changing up between different offenses and defense, it was important for us to go in there and establish our identity and how we play and how we wanted the game to go and I thought we did a really good job of that. Any time you can get a road win by 10 it's pretty big, average team, bad team, good team, road wins are huge. Especially with Anikia [Jawara] who didn't play but 15 minutes, had back spasms and didn't play at all in the second half, she wasn't very effective in the minutes she did play so that put a little bit more heat on our other kids to step up and they did. It was just a good team win for us. Any time you play that first game after Christmas break there's some rust you've got to get off, it makes it even tougher when you're on the road so that was a real good win for us.
Then Idaho, they're really well coached, Mike Divilbiss their coach is a good friend of ours and does a good job. I know I was a little nervous going into that one just because I know what they do and I know that they've got the big kid, Katie Madison who's a really good player and had a really good freshman year. What they weren't doing in their early games when they were losing is they weren't giving her the ball enough. I noticed that she wasn't getting the same amount of shots she got a year ago or the same amount of free throws and their new players were all thinking they were gonna go and get it done so what they did last night, they went back to her a lot more and that made them a lot better. That kind of made me nervous going into the game. I thought we did a pretty decent job defensively in her keeping her in check. Probably the only negative thing is we just fouled too much and that was just positioning. Then we played so many people last night too that kind of hurt our rhythm, it's pretty good getting that first league game. That puts us one step closer to winning the league title.
bc.net: Going back to the Colorado State game, the team hit eight straight free throws in the final minute and a half to seal that game. Last season free throw shooting was a little bit of a problem for the team but this season it's pretty solid and it seems like they're able to hit free throws when they need to.
DS: You know that's something we talk about, getting more free throws, getting to the free throw line a lot more, probably the one disappointing thing right now is Sherrell [Neal] and Anikia [Jawara] aren't our top free throw shooters as far as attempts and they've got to shoot a lot more free throws. Our point Madison is shooting the most amount of free throws and you need your post kids to shoot a lot more but on the flip side is some of our better shooters, our guards are getting to the free throw line a lot more, and that's because we're a lot more aggressive in cutting to the basket, we're passing the ball better and so we're getting other people fouled. We still need to get fouled a lot more and last night we got to the free throw line 37 times, I thought we were in a UNM jersey for a while we got so many free throws. But something that we talk about a lot, we've got kids who are stepping up and making free throws and the Colorado State game was huge, they'd cut it to 10 and then we'd push it back to 12 and down the stretch and the same thing happened last night. We've got kids who have a little more confidence now and are just stepping up at the right time.
bc.net: One thing that I noticed last night was Idaho was putting a lot of pressure on your ball handlers, is that something you expect to see more of from the rest of the league as they play you?
DS: Yeah, you know I think as you get into the teams that have better schemes and when it's conference play and everybody's a little more familiar with each other but I also think that you know they're probably looking at tapes, and a lot of people are going to do this, they look at Madison being a 5'11" bigger freshman point guard that they'll think that they can put somebody smaller and really pressure her but she doesn't turn the ball over many times. So, she did a pretty good job of keeping us in our offense as she has all year long. It doesn't really bother me because she and our other guards, Tyshae is having a great year for us, they're smart enough to know that if it gets too tough, they just pick it up and pass it over them because our guards are bigger than the people we're playing right now. It's something that probably when we play especially a few more of the so called athletic teams, La. Tech and Fresno and San Jose and Utah State down the road they'll probably come at us a lot tougher.
bc.net: One of the other things I've noticed is that Monique seems to be a lot more aggressive driving the ball, is that something that's a byproduct of having someone like Madison who's a very aggressive point guard doing that as well?
DS: Yeah, I think so and it's just Monique being a senior and understanding that she sees a freshman doing that a little bit and she's thinking "golly I can do it, I've been here, this is my fourth year" and she's playing against it everyday in practice with Madison and with Brittany Palmer. She's seeing it a lot more, which in past years that's kinda where we've struggled, she was it. So I think she's even learning more into her senior year which is a big complement to her, she's hanging in there and doing what she can do. Mo's always been pretty good at trying to get into the lane, but this year she's being a lot more efficient when she gets into the lane, pulling up for shots or making the right pass and not always throwing up an off balance layup.
bc.net: You've got Utah Valley State coming in here tomorrow, it's a non league game and I'm sure a lot of people will be looking in the paper tomorrow and see Utah Valley State and think it should be an easy win but they're 13-3 and they've also beaten some good teams. This game isn't going to be a walk in the park for you guys. What do you need to do to contain them? They've got three players who are averaging more than 15 points per game and they're shooting lights out from the floor (48%).
DS: Yeah, they're really good. Last night in the game at one of our later timeouts, I was trying to get our kids attention back to finishing the game out strong and I told them right then and there we're getting ready to play the best team will have seen all year. Utah Valley is obviously a team that not a whole lot of people know about but they could very easily be a contributor in the WAC as we look for another team, you know, they would be a pretty good fit. They have this team that most these kids are together for their third year. They brought them in as freshmen and they took their lumps and they made the jump up to Division I. They have good money, they travel well, they're in their third year together. They have one of the best post players, Robyn Fairbanks, in the country. She's big, she's quick, she catches everything, she can score. They play with this freedom offensively. They remind me of the Boise State team last year when they had the big scorer in the middle and really good complementary players around her and they move well and they just play with this offensive freedom, when they get it going. Obviously they've played a lot of home games, and you know the ones they've gotten beat are the road games. They're a little bit different team out on the road than they are at home. We had a really good battle with them last year at their place. In fact we had the game won, it was one of those long line of games that we gave away down the stretch last year. Our kids know that we have to be solid in every phase. Defensively we've got to be tough and be in the right spot just keep working on our position defense. Offensively we've got to get out and run and get up and down and make them play defense as well. It's gonna be a great test for us.
The reason why I put this game there was I wanted the kids to get used to the Thursday/Saturday routine of the WAC schedule instead of just playing Thursday and being off and then the next time we hit it is Boise State and Utah State. This will give us a chance to get in to the WAC routine and play another really good team before we get into the heart of the conference schedule.
bc.net: Obviously heading into the season you didn't know that Colorado State and Idaho would be struggling the way they are, do you think coming off of those two games and then playing against a really good Utah Valley State will help you as you've got Boise State in your next game instead of playing two weaker teams and then jumping up in talent?
DS: No question. I thought our kids were focused going into last night's game but they kinda in the back of their minds, knew that Idaho had struggled and we talked after the game. Our kids, they know who Utah Valley is and it's got their attention and I expect our kids to really be anxious to play and be ready to play. The ones who were here a year ago, they feel that we gave one away at their place last year. It comes at the right time too because as you said we're getting ready to play some better conference teams and any time you can play good teams it helps you prepare. Win or lose if you can learn from it, it helps you down the road. Now obviously you want to learn from the win and we're gonna do all we can do that.
bc.net: Do you prepare this team any differently that in seasons past, given the success that you've had in the non-conference? Obviously you're going to get the best shot from each and every opponent and you're probably not going to sneak up on anyone in league play.
DS: Mentally it's a little different in the things we talk about because we are in a different situation. We're not the hunter anymore, we're the hunted, everybody's trying to come get us now. Just from a psychological standpoint what we talk about, and really try to keep their attention. This team, I have a pretty good trust factor in this team knowing that they're all in it. The group we have right now playing, they're all in it for the right reasons. They're all taking care of their business in every way shape and form. They want to win, they want to win big, they want to be that special team and they want to do good things. They know every day they've got to come into practice, even the days we don't go long or don't go hard, they've got to be mentally focused on the task at hand. So that gives me a greater sense of confidence knowing that going into the game they're a lot better prepared. At the same time, I try to change things, I try to keep things new with them to keep it fresh. We're as hard as we can be on them to make sure they do things the right way.
bc.net: Heading into league play, who's the x-factor for this team, maybe someone who didn't make a lot of noise in the non-conference but you think is ready to break out?
DS: Well I really believe that Da Da, Danisha Corbett, a freshman guard, she's been getting more minutes, I really think she's a kid that can step up. What she does real well, is she can change the complexion of the game. If it's a little stagnant you can throw her in there and she's like the tasmanian devil, she'll make things happen, it may not always be good but she's gonna make things happen. She's gonna run fast and be quick and she can make moves to score and she had a couple good possessions last night. Defensively she's getting a lot better and she's by far one of the most athletic kids in this league. When she gets hitting some shots she can be very very dangerous. I think she's one that can step in and help us.
And then we need Niki Holt or Erica Sanchez one of those two needs to really step up or both of them and give us some good defensive play and some rebounding in the post spot to help us with our depth there.