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 takes a look back at the Utah Valley State victory and how they can use that to prepare for their upcoming game against Boise State, Hannah Spanich's performance over the past five games and what they need to do to win against Boise State and Utah State this week.
bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk little bit about the game this past Saturday against Utah Valley? You came out a little slow, got down 20-9 but then at one point in the second half went +18 on them, which was very impressive.
Darin Spence: It's one of those situations where the players knew Utah Valley was a good team and viewed it as a big game for us. I just think we were a little tight. We were making mistakes on the offensive end. Sure they were scoring on us because we were on defense but we always talk about how we can't let them score on our offense and because we weren't very efficient on that end they were turning that into points. If you're not good on the offensive end it doesn't allow you to get your defense set up the right way. That was kind of what was going on and we probably missed five shots in that stretch right in the lane. Sherrell missed two point blank layups and the harder we tried the worse it got and then we had the timeout and we woke up a little bit and kicked it into another gear. It's obviously really gratifying to see the players get it turned around and we did it with some people off the bench and came in did a good job and turned it around. After that I thought we played a good game the rest of the way.
bc.net: In the first half UVSU shot 52% from the floor but in the second half you were able to limit them to 36% from the field and the players stepped in front of a lot of post entry passes, what adjustments did you make that allowed you to slow them down offensively?
DS: Our post defenders I thought did a much better job on their big kid [Fairbanks]. Yeah she scored but we just wanted to make it a little tougher on her and not foul her. We didn't want to put her on the free throw a bunch, just make her earn it and I thought we did that. Our defensive positioning was a lot better and the biggest reason was because we were better on the offensive end as well and our rhythm was better as well. We like to talk about how you have to play the game with a certain flow and it can't be choppy and if you play a real smooth rhythm to the game you're gonna have a pretty good chance at both ends of the floor and we were a lot more focused on the offensive end as well and that always carries over to playing better defense, I thought our rebounding was pretty good and we made them have to play against us and chase us around. I think it was a group that just decided we're going to step up, we want to win this game so we did all the little things in the game, we caught balls, we passed balls, played good position defense and took another step that good teams take.
bc.net: You touched on it a little bit but I thought your interior players really played pretty well against Robyn Fairbanks, even though she hit her average of 24 points, it really seemed like she was working for just about everything and you could tell she was frustrated towards the end of the game. Was your strategy to let her get her points and just make sure that the other players didn't beat you? You held their other two leading scorers five points below their averages each.
DS: Exactly. We just didn't want to foul her. In the past when we've played teams with good big kids like [Dionne] Marsh at UNM or the big kid at UTEP [Piekarska] we've fouled them too much. So what we want to do is just say "okay, we're not gonna try to shut her down, we just want her to work harder but don't foul her, don't put her on the free throw line, don't stop the clock and if they score they score." Fairbanks hit some threes on breaks where we lost her, our post players were back in the lane rather than picking her up out top but even that's okay, if she's out there shooting those, she's not going to keep making those. We just wanted her to do something different because as you said, our other defenders were doing a good job on their other players. We just needed to turn it up a bit, the biggest thing is we didn't foul. We played good position defense, kept our hands out of there. We've been a team that's fouled way too much just because we've been too handsy. We've talked about being real aggressive and active on defense but then sometimes we foul way too much. But that game we did a really good job of not fouling and I think we shot some free throws too and hit a bunch down the stretch.
bc.net: Can you talk about the play of Hannah Spanich over the stretch of the past five games, really since the Lamar game, she's played some very quality basketball for you, averaging 10.6 points and 5 rebounds per game and had a double-double last game and was in consideration for POTW honors for this week?
DS: Yeah, you know she's really grown and matured alot. Obviously she's feeling more comfortable coming off the bench. In some games she's the first one off the bench, in other games she might be the second or third, it just depends on what we need at that moment. She's done a really good job offensively of being more aggressive, one on offensive rebounds, two driving the ball and just getting herself in a better rhythm. She's spent some time working on her game and that always helps. I think she's taken some of the pressure, self inflicted pressure or family pressure that was on her, because she was high school First Team All-American and the National Christian Association Player of the Year and had these big, high, lofty goals. It takes kids time to figure out that Division I basketball is pretty tough and you're not going to come in and score 30 points per game. When she was struggling I think both she and family were like "Wow, what's happening?" Now she's finally relaxed and going with the flow and playing better because of it. Again it's just a maturity thing and her experience has allowed her to play better. She's a solid defender and the free throws she's been making, she made some at Colorado State, Idaho and then Utah Valley State, she's hit some big free throws for us down at the end of the games. (NOTE: She's 16 for 16 in the past two games).
She's mixing up her game, she's getting some points off rebounds, drives and open shots and then free throws so she's really developed an all around game.
bc.net: Towards the end of the game, it appeared that you had a little bit of a teaching moment with your young freshman point guard, who also happens to be your daughter, can you talk about the misconception that a lot of people have when it comes to coaches coaching their kids, from the outside a lot of people may think that coaches may favor their kids and give them more playing time but in fact most of the stories you hear from coaches are that they are generally harder on their kids than they are on the rest of the players?
DS: Right, you know, there's such a huge difference, you look around, and it's happened more on the men's side than the women's side but there's been a handful where the coach's kids have been good players and then there's been a handful where they've just been on the team. So there's a balance. Like in our case, Madi's one of our better players and we expect so much of her and the expectations are so high that yeah, I as coach and dad, am going to put a little more emphasis on her because I think she can be one of the best guards in the country at any level. I've seen her play against the starting point guard at Arizona State, and the starting point guard at Tennessee, I've seen her play against the starting point guard at Rutgers, I've seen her hold her own against those people in the summertime so I know what she's very capable of doing. So there's a little chip on my shoulder who think, like you said, oh she's the coach's kid, they'll get whatever they want and which is not the case. So sometimes you go a little overboard and you are a little harder on your kid because you're trying to prove something to people when you really don't have to. I know she can play, she knows she can play and she's been pretty darn good for us this year. People from the outside looking in, if they're smart basketball fans, they can tell when she's on the floor that we're a much much much better team basketball team.
bc.net: She injured her ankle in the game on Saturday, what's her status for the game on Thursday?
DS: She actually hurt it before we went to New Mexico but because she's so stubborn and didn't want to take days off, it hasn't healed up the way it could have. She just re-aggravated it, stepped on a kid's foot late in the game and it really tore her up that she couldn't finish the game. Because she's one, she had her nose broke and her nose split open in the state championship game and got back in the game. She's one that's not soft, she'll fight through anything and it really tore her up. When I asked her in kind of a sarcastic way, "What you're not tough enough to play through it?" that just kind of tore her up, which proves whatever I say to any player on our team, I say the same thing to my own daughter. We treat them all fair but not all the same, I'm pretty hard on all of them. She'll be okay, we didn't let her do anything in practice yesterday and she did some things today. You could tell it's been bothering her because her shot just hasn't been the same and her balance hasn't been the same, so we need to take care of it now. I think tomorrow she'll do a little bit but not a lot and by Thursday she'll be ready to go.
bc.net: This week is a very important week for your team, you host preseason favorite Boise State on Thursday night and with BSU losing to Fresno on Saturday but not before going on a 24-4 run to start the half, obviously this is a great opportunity for you to get a couple games between you and them and keep pace with Fresno State for the league lead. What can you take away from the Utah Valley State game as far as being able to hold a really good offensive team below their averages, that will help you against Boise State?
DS: We know Boise, they're a good team, we know that they get a lot of points from their three guards. The Utah Valley game I think really will prepare us for this game with Boise because their style of play is so similar. They're both loose and free offensive teams, they shoot a lot of threes and spread you out. Boise doesn't quite have the post presence that they did last year but we know they're going to be hungry coming in here because they have their first three on the road, Fresno, here and then La. Tech. You know the big picture of it, they're trying to get one win out of the three and we sure don't want it to be here. In the back of our minds, they beat us three times last year. We know that, they beat us by three in the championship game when we had a great chance to win it. I think that will play into it as well, our kids are going to want to protect home court and then we know that with two more home games we need to win all three home [conference] games and go 3-0 before we head out on the road for three. Win by one or win by ten, we need to do all we can and do whatever it takes to get the wins. We know we've got to play great defense, got to slow Boise's guards down and rebound. I think we have a huge mismatch with Sherrell and Anikia.
bc.net: Just looking at the season stats, it looks like you have a huge advantage on the boards, Sherrell and Anikia have 237 combined rebounds, their top two rebounders combined have 124. Obviously more rebounds equates to more possessions, is that really something that you're preaching this week, not only with Boise State but with Utah State who's kind of in the same statistical area?
DS: Yeah we are, on Monday we watched parts of our Utah Valley State game and I talked to them alot about our rebounding. We've always been a really good offensive rebounding team and I think we've taken a step backwards from that but we've become a better defensive rebounding team. We talked about our defense has to lead to solid rebounding, they get one shot and miss it we have to have it and we want to go get a lot of offensive srebounds, especially those nights when we're not making as many shots or not shooting as high a percentage. That's always something we talk about, we work on, we worked a lot on our rebounding and breaking out today, tomorrow we'll do more rebounding drills in practice, it's something that we've made a much more conscious effort and commitment to our rebounding part of our game this year. That's something we'll always talk about and hopefully each game the kids will carry it out to the floor.