bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/14/08

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 conference victories last week, Tyshae Walton's improvement this from last year to this year and what they need to do against Louisiana Tech.

bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk about the Boise State game on Thursday, you beat a very good team in Boise State by 14.
Darin Spence: Yeah, I'll tell you what, it wasn't easy. They're such an experienced team and their guards are so explosive and their scorers put a lot of pressure on guards to play good solid defense. We definitely knew we had our work cut out for us. I thought especially as the game wore on our team did a good job of playing good team defense, our forwards helped as much as they could and we just found a way to make their shots and points difficult to come by.

bc.net: You had the big lead around 9 minutes left in the game and then BSU whittled it down to 1 around the four and half minute mark but then just over the next three minutes you built it back up to double digits, what did you tell your team when BSU made that run?
DS: We just talked about staying composed, in years past we had been in those situations and given the games away and I think our experience and having gone through those experiences before, we knew what to do and what not to do. Our energy level went up at that point and our efficiency on the offensive end has gotten so much better and we started putting the ball in places where we could be successful and so I think that was a huge key. We didn't panic we just stayed with our game plan and kept moving the ball and found ways to score.

bc.net: You talked a little bit about your offense, it has really come alive for your in the past few games and the thing that I'm sure pleases you is that it hasn't come at the expense of your team's defense.
DS: No question. That's something we don't ever want to have happen. At the same time, we've been pretty solid defensively, and we have a pretty good trust factor in what we're doing on that end of the floor, so it's allowed us to spend some more time in practice on our offense and I think that's really starting to pay off. We're a lot more comfortable, we're just a lot more efficient on the offensive end, we're making the extra pass and we have people that can score. I thought we've always had that, it's just a matter of getting it turned on at right time. I think another huge factor is we've been so aggressive and our positioning offensively has been so good, we've been getting fouled a lot and we haven't settled for as many three point shots as we have in the past. We've driven it when we've had to, we've thrown it inside and we're getting a lot more fouls now. The important thing is you have to make the free throws and we're doing a really good job of that as well.

bc.net: You talked about shooting more free throws, in your non-conference you were averaging 19.5 free throws per game, in the three conference games you're averaging 27 and your free throw percentage is 76% which is second in the WAC?
DS: Yeah it's pretty good and it's a far cry from where it's been in years past. In years past we've launched up so many threes that we didn't get to the free throw line a lot and so our rhythm wasn't good and so when we got to the free throw line we missed them or a good share of them. I just think right now we're in a better rhythm offensively and we're a lot more efficient, but we're doing thing a lot better on that and and it's resulted in a lot more free throws. I think too that the officials know how you play and you can establish how you're going to play on the offensive end so then they get a better feel for what they need to call for you as well. In years past we've been so out of sync that they've never known what we were going to do. They know we're going inside, they know we're going to drive later in the shot clock and so I think they're looking out for that and it's easier for them to officiate as well.

bc.net: In the Utah State on Saturday, you were down by eight points with about five and half minutes left in the first half and then you went on a 14-3 run to end the first half and ended up beating them by 15. What happened at that point when you were down, did your team basically said enough is enough basically asserted themselves?
DS: Exactly, The switch turned on. At that point defensively we started using our press to break their rhythm and went to into a zone to get them standing around a little bit more and I think both paid off. The kids did a really good job of executing both that press and our zone. We really hadn't spent a lot of time in practice working on those. We always walk through it but as far as really getting after it five on five we haven't played much of it, maybe ten minutes in the past week. Our kids did a really good job of recalling what they were supposed to do. I think that broke Utah State's rhythm, before that they were really aggressive and driving hard and we were out of position to rebound and after we made that change that got them standing around and then when we got stops and we got a few more rebounds I think that ignited our offense as well and we got some free throws and stepped up and made them.

At halftime, we always talk about enough is enough. I talk to these kids all the time about when you're trying to change the culture of the program and get from coming close to actually winning the games you have to stand up and say enough is enough and I said those very words at halftime because I told our kids, Utah State's beaten us three out of the last four times. I said against this opponent we have got to step up and say "That's it, it's not happening any more with you people." The kids came out in the second half and really put it on them.

bc.net: In the postgame after the Boise State win you talked about Tyshae Walton and the job she's done defensively, can you talk a little bit about her and her game and what you're able to do with her on the floor?
DS: Tyshae, her game has grown in her third year here she has really improved and she's worked hard on her game. Her overall game, her confidence with her ball handling and her confidence in just being on the court, it's night and day different than a year ago. She's just a lot more comfortable out there.

She accepts her role of being the defensive stopper, she's gonna guard the other team's best guard whether it's a player coming off screens, whether it's a player that likes to drive a lot, she's willing to accept that challenge. The way that we talk about the style of play that our offense feeds of our defense, when she's locked in on the defensive end, it allows her offensive game to take off. She's been shooting good shots, she hasn't forced things, she's got out in transition and has some layups and some midrange short pull up jumpers off the dribble so she's really being smart on that end of it.

She's got a big heart, she does whatever we need to do to help this team be successful. She's just a real competitor and she's not doing to bad for a kid that was a high school post player. She's out on the perimeter handling the ball. Very early in her freshman year in practice I made her play the point guard spot and she kept asking me why because she wasn't a point guard. What I wanted to do back then was put her in situations where she had the ball in her hand to get her confidence to grow and get her experience to grow because I knew she was going to have the ball in her hand out on the perimeter a lot. By having her run the team in practice that puts a lot of pressure to take care of the ball. It's just been a three year process with her and she's done a great job and I know she's gonna keep doing the same and more.

bc.net: This week Sherrell Neal was named WAC Player of the Week
DS: It's our first of the year, we've had people nominated and we haven't got any. Sherrell is very deserving of it and she could have probably gotten it three or four times this year.

bc.net: In the two games last week, your two inside players Sherrell and Anikia combined for 65 points and 36 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 blocks and 5 assists and then your two point guards combined for 48 points and 13 assists, can you talk about those four players and how much pressure it puts on opposing defenses?
DS: Any time you can be balanced in your scoring scoring it makes you so much harder to guard. We always talk to our players about their movement, if they play with a purpose on the offensive end and they're efficient with the ball and their shot selection they're going to be hard to guard. We've got a pretty good balance of the inside game where we have some strength, we have some quickness and both Sherrell and Anikia can score and when they're making free throws it makes it even tougher for defense. Then when you have guards stepping up and making shots, you've got to pick what it is you want to stop. When we played Boise we wanted to make their guards really work and then if their forwards could do something then they were gonna have to be the ones to make plays, kinda the same thing with Utah State. With us, on a good night, we can beat you from inside or outside and it's just a matter of what you want to give up. The girls are doing a good job of getting themselves into position and running what we want to run and as time goes by they're getting more aggressive and I keep telling them that when they have open shots to step up and shoot them because an open 12 footer is better than a contested 6 footer. They're starting to be more comfortable in what they do.

bc.net: We've talked a lot about Hannah Spanich lately and she missed a free throw at the end of the BSU game that broke a string of 21 straight free throws, I'm sure you made her run laps for that, but she really fills the stat sheet, even when she's not scoring a whole lot or taking a lot of shots, she had 5 assists in the game against Boise State and she's also blocked a few shots in the past three or four games.
DS: Hannah has a lot of ability. I know that in her role now of coming off the bench it has settled her down and she's a lot more calm when she goes in, she sees what other team is doing. A lot of times, she gets to go in, she's better than a lot of players, when another team's starting group starts getting tired, and then she gets in the game, she's playing against their top kids when they're fatigued or she's playing against their subs which she's clearly better than so she has a huge advantage. A lot of people coming off the bench don't ever look at it that way. Kids these days think it's a blow to their ego if they have to come off the bench but that couldn't be further from the truth. There have been some great players throughout the history of basketball that came off the bench and really helped their team. We have a few of those this year who have accepted that and Hannah, she gets in there and if you put your sub in and she's a small guard, Hannah's going to expose her because she's bigger and she's stronger and she's just a good player. She's playing within herself, she's a solid defender, she's rebounding the ball really well for us, she's always been a good scorer, it's just been a matter of her fitting in and finding where her shots are and she's done a great job of recognizing that. She's playing with a lot of confidence and we have a lot of confidence in her and those kids off our bench are really important to us.

bc.net: How much of an advantage is it for your players to face your defense each day in practice to prepare for defenses that they face in conference play as opposed to a team that maybe doesn't play as strong defensively and doesn't practice that way?
DS: It definitely prepares us because we try to play so hard on the defensive end. We're really a position defensive team, we're different than a Nevada and La. Tech and even Utah State on the perimeter where some of these teams play to get steals where we don't. We're at the bottom of the league in steals per game but we play position and we try to force people to different spots on the floor than they're used to and because of our positioning and our help and recovery techniques, we get teams sped up where they play faster than what they want to play. We play for deflections and there's a huge difference because we don't want our feet out of position so we're always talking about playing for deflections and not steals, whereas you find other teams that are trying to steal everything so if you can just take care of the ball you'll end up shooting layups on them if you just make that extra one or two passes. So, because we want to work so hard on the defensive end, yeah, we're ready for what teams are going to throw at us. The last couple games both Boise and Utah State jumped into some zone against us and we haven't spent a whole lot of time on our zone offense and we handled it well and moved the ball and got good shots.

bc.net: You're 5-0 after the Christmas break and you went 4-0 at home and are off to a 3-0 league start but up next you've got three in a row on the road. Is it an advantage for your team this week that your trip to Louisiana Tech is the only game?
DS: It could be, since the schedule is what it is, we have to spin it that way sure. We just have one opponent to prepare for. It's La. Tech's only game as well. They're coming off a loss, so you don't know what emotions they're going to go through in their practices. They're probably angry and they're gonna try to raise their level. What we have to do is be mature in our approach to what we're doing. A lot of people believe that you've got to lose to learn something, I don't necessarily believe that, I think when you get beat it might refocus you a little bit and get you a little angry. We have to be able to learn from winning and not be complacent. The good thing about this team is we've been beaten in the past a few times so we know how to do it that way. Right now we're starting to learn how to learn from winning, if we can do that we'll go to La. Tech and give our chance to win in a tough place to play, in a tough environment against a good solid team.

bc.net: Louisiana Tech drew a little over 4500 fans for their game against BSU on Saturday. Having recently played against New Mexico in The Pit, and how much does that help with the preparation and is there anything extra that you have to do to prepare to play at a place like that because it doesn't happen that often?
DS: We've got this NCAA "Pack the House" challenge going on, that's the night they picked, they had $2 tickets which helped with the crowd, but they've been averaging over 1,000 fans a game but you've got to be ready for a large crowd if they have one that night or a small one. We talked right after the UNM game, we won't play in a building or an arena that's gonna be tougher than what was up there, we've been in a tough place at BYU and even Colorado State wasn't an easy place to play or UTEP, we've played at some tough places on the road that will prepare us. La. Tech's a little different because they have three national championship banners hanging in the rafters, they're one of the top programs in the country with the number of WNBA players, they have their posters all around the arena. It's a little different, they still have Louisiana Tech on their chest and they're a storied program. But I don't think this group that we have is in awe of them anymore. A couple years ago we went there and I don't think we gave ourselves a legitimate chance to win. This group is different, they don't think we can win, they know we can win every time we step out on the floor. We've got to prepare this week mentally, be sharp and when we step on that floor we've just gotta compete like we have been.

bc.net: Obviously you've got some good feelings against Louisiana Tech, your last time out against them in the tournament you beat them and stopped their 25 year string of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, how much of a motivating factor will that be for them?
DS: i think it'll be big in their camp just because we're the one that knocked them off and we're the ones that after we did it we talked about doing it. Sometimes paybacks can be rough on the back end, but at the same time, our players know they're going to be out to get us just because it's a conference game. We don't talk a whole lot about all those revenge factors and redemption and all that stuff, it's a conference game they have to win because it's a home game for them. We don't have to win it but we can sure give ourselves a leg up in the conference race if we can get a road win and in the swing of three I really think if we can win two of three we can be sitting in the driver's seat in the conference race. We've got to make sure we get one of the three for sure and it would be great way to start it with a win at La. Tech but we know it's not going to be easy and we're going to be have to pretty darn good that night.

bc.net: Snead and Dowdell are hitting 53% and 48% of their shots and they have 162 and 122 rebounds each, what kind of matchup do you see with those two and Sherrell and Anikia do you see those four as possibly canceling each other out numbers wise?
DS: No because their kids are a little taller than Sherrell and Anikia. The way we've been playing with Carla in there, Carla will guard one of them and Anikia will guard the other one and Sherrell has been playing a lot more of the 3 (small forward) so one of their smaller guards is gonna have to guard her. So we've kind of twisted it that way. Snead is a very capable scorer, she's physical. You would hope that our two could cancel their two out and it would be an even wash and then maybe our guards could pick up the slack but I really believe that our team defense can bother them and make it difficult for them to score. The big key is that we can't foul them and put them on the free throw line and put ourselves in jeopardy of having our top kids not play their minutes. When we have the ball we need to attack them and force some foul problems with their kids so their top players and those two big kids don't play their full minutes that's a big key. They're not a great free throw shooting team but we don't want to foul and put ourselves at risk of not keeping our kids on the floor. I think that's where you can win or lose a lot of games. You've gotta make sure your top kids are playing their full minutes and then you want to make sure the other team's top kids aren't playing their full minutes. I do think a plus for us are our guards, we have bigger guards, La. Tech has some smaller kids playing in the guard spots so if we can handle their pressure we'll be able make passes over them, I think we'll be able to shoot it. At the same time we need to keep out of the transition as well because they're pretty quick.