Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/22/08 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 revisits the loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, talks about preparing for Utah State and Nevada and talks about what this week's games mean to their drive for a WAC championship. Can you talk a little bit about the game on Saturday night?
Darin Spence: It wasn't one of our better outings. We talked to the team, I thought it was our worst week that we've had all year as far as our mental, our focus, and just the approach to practice and carrying that into the game and I'm one of those that believe you're going to play how you practice. We just didn't practice with that sense of urgency. That could be for a couple of different reasons. What I think is that we'd won five in a row and I just don't think we were mentally strong enough yet to make that into a six game winning streak. It's just something we have to learn from. It was not one of our better performances and yet we still had a chance to win the game. That's the interesting thing about it, if we're locked in and ready to go, we should have and could have won that game. You talked about not putting their two bigs on the free throw line and they combined for 21 foul shots and made 17 of them.
DS: Yeah, they had their career day, no question. But we had a lot do with that. Our post defense was not very good. We knew the ball was going there, we were trailing them to spots instead of beating them to spots, they're good players. They're athletic, they're long, they can score and they did a good job of getting fouled. You can always say that some of the calls were shaky but then again if you're not tuned in and on top of you're game you're going to foul because you're a step behind. It was just one of those deals where we didn't put ourselves in the right spots so we fouled them too much. You had an off shooting night, how much of that was just it not being your night offensively and how much of that was their defense, and despite that, it was a one possession game with 30 seconds left?
DS: I think it's a combination of both, I'm not going to take anything away from Louisiana Tech. Here's the interesting thing about La. Tech, they've got three national titles and I think five Final Four or championship game appearances in the history. That's a good program, they're still getting well over 2000 fans a game. They have good players, they're long, they're athletic. They have a lot to do with it, they're a good solid defensive team. On the other hand, I think for some reason our kids were her last year are listening to everybody around saying, well they graduated a lot of people so they can't be very good. We just saw them get beat pretty good by Boise State but we don't do things that Boise State does, we're different teams. We didn't play as well as we've been playing, not even close to it. But La. Tech played a good game, they were locked in, focused, they did a good job. We're not going to be very successful when Anikia and Madison combine to go 2-18 and both of those made baskets were in the first half. We didn't shoot it very well. But again it wasn't like we had people all over us, we had open shots. We missed layups, we missed five transition run-out baskets just off the break where we'd get a rebound and throw a long pass and wouldn't catch the ball and it'd go out of bounds or we'd miss a layup. We had a couple nice post passes where they'd double-team our post and we threw it across the lane and our kids would miss a layup so it just goes back to, if you're not locked in and ready to go you're not going to play your best and you're going to miss easy shots. Sherell Neal had 22 points and 12 rebounds can you talk about her play?
DS: Yeah, it's interesting, she competed and had some numbers but she didn't have a great game. It was just no one else would score so she was about the only one looking to take shots. She didn't have one of her better games. When I say we weren't focused, it was everybody, it was one through twelve. But she battled, she found ways to get baskets. It's really sad that towards the end we threw her the ball in the lane with a chance to tie it or pull within one and the ref called a travel on her. It was an unfortunate call, that just kind of took the wind out of our sails right there. Sherell battled, she kept trying to fight through it. She was the only one of our five seniors that was really out there trying to lead and trying to do her part. As I told the five seniors, this is your team, if you guys aren't going to help and lead it and compete on the road, you think these young freshmen are going to go into La. Tech and win? Those seniors have got to do their jobs better especially on those tough road games. Can you talk about your play defensively? You were able to keep them to only 29% from the floor, which most nights is going to be good enough to win?
DS: You know, for the most part we defended pretty well. The breakdown was, and I hate to single people out, but Carla Denning being a senior, didn't fulfill her defensive role that she's been filling. So they knew when they needed something, they just looked for one of the posts and threw it in there. Overall our team defense was pretty solid. They had 57 points but we fouled them three times and they made six free throws at the end to give them that cushion. I felt okay about what we did on that end. First half we rebounded on the defensive end really well. Second half we didn't rebound very well at all and so they got some other chances and more chances for us to foul them. Any time you go and hold someone to 57 points on their floor you'd think you'd have a chance to come out with a win. We've talked quite a bit in the past couple of weeks about being able to learn from wins and losses, what will you be able to teach your kids from this loss?
DS: Well for one, I think it comes down to, and this was very disappointing for me as the head coach because I have never seen a lack of approach or lack of focus like this out of our team all year long. That was probably the disappointing part of it. We talked about having an overall respect for each team that you're going to play. I say it's disappointing, when we've won games, we've never had that "we're really good" attitude but you know for some reason we had it last week. I think the biggest thing that we're going to learn is that we respect who we're playing a heck of a lot more. And understand that championship teams bring it every day. If you want to win a championship you've got to bring it every day, practice, game. I think that this is kind of a wake up call for us. I think the biggest lesson from this is a lot more mental than it is physical. We've just got to make sure we're keeping everybody ready to go. Up next on Thursday night you've got Utah State, you beat them 71-56 a couple weeks ago and Sherrell Neal and Anikia Jawara combined for 37 points, what do you need to do to have a repeat performance?
DS: First thing is we've got to make sure defensively we're really good because Utah State's got those little guards that drive a lot and create some problems and get you out of rebounding position and that's what bothered us in the first half against them. Being only one game removed from them they're still real fresh in our minds. At the same time, we're gonna have to be focused and ready to go. Our approach has to be real solid in our preparation because Utah State's lost three in a row on their three road game swing. One they're going to be ready to beat us because they think they let one get away here and they're trying to bounce back from those three straight losses. We're going to have to fight off their initial surge when they come out, they'll probably be real emotional and try to run us out in the beginning. We're just going to have to be solid and just steady, play good defense, rebound the ball and give our offense a chance to find who's scoring and where we're scoring from that night. Anikia and Sherell, when they're on their game, they're hard for anybody to handle, they're capable, they should have those kind of numbers every night we play. The other side of it is our guards are solid players so if we just play well and get good shots, Utah State's gotta decide out what they want to give up, our inside or our outside and then we just gotta step up as a team and grow up a little bit more. One of the things in that game that stands out is they had 19 offensive rebounds and yet you still beat them by 15, what do you need to do to keep them off the offensive glass?
DS: Well, I tell you what happened to us, they had a majority of those in the first half and then they had a few late in the game when they were trying to chuck up all those three point shots. In the middle of the first half and most the second half we did a much better job rebounding. What they do is because they drive so much and they come off those high screen and roll sets, it puts you in a different position, something that we hadn't been used to and hadn't seen a lot and takes you out of your rebounding positions. So what you have to do is you have to work harder to get back into your rebounding spots. And, we need our guards, our 1, 2 and 3 spots to rebound a heck of a lot more than they did that night and not just leave it up to our 4 and our 5 players. We just have to have a better awareness of where the ball is, we can't let them drive it as easy as they did in the first half here and try to keep them out on the perimeter which is hard to do because their guards are little quick kids. We just gotta help each other a little bit more and then just scramble around and work harder for the defensive rebounds. This is the second time you'll be facing them, what are the challenges when you're facing a team for the second time and especially in such a short amount of time?
DS: Both teams are a lot more familiar with each other. You've got a tape on each other head to head and so you can't just think, well we'll have a better chance because we lost the first time, or we beat them the first time so this will be easy. You've got to execute better, you've got to be a lot more efficient in everything you do because there is that familiarity. On Saturday you've got Nevada who's 3-1 in conference after losing to Boise State this past Saturday, their point guard Dellena Criner scored 33 points and is averaging 24 points per game in conference play and she's gotten to the line 44 times. Can you talk about the matchup between her and Madison?
DS: Criner is a really good player, she's very explosive, she aggressive. She's probably one of the top two or three guards in our league. We'll approach her just like we did when we played the guards from Boise. We're not going to try to cut her head off completely, we're going to just try to make her work a little bit harder. We'l bounce around a lot of people guarding her to mix it up from Madison to Tyshae, Monique, Irma, Hannah, we'll do that by committee. What we want to do is one, not let her get her average, but secondly not let some of the other players really get off. So we've got to be a lot more solid on the rest of them too. I don't think you put all your focus to stop one kid, even if it's their best player because their top scorer, they're scoring for a reason, they're going to find ways to score because that's what they do. If you spend all your effort on that one it can be very frustrating for you. So you don't want to let the other get points and I don't think one kid is going to score 65 points and beat you by herself. We're too good of a defensive team for that. We'll just make her work for everything and try to keep her out on the floor. She's a really good player, she can shoot it deep, she can drive. On the flip side is she's overly aggressive on defense. We've had some success with her with driving the ball right at her and getting her in foul trouble in the past couple years.

Both locations, Utah State and Nevada, the last two years we've won at Utah State and then got beat in overtime, then last two years we've lost at Nevada, but one was a four point game and last year we gave up the lead with 30 seconds left in the game so we're comfortable in both places. The game at Nevada, this is another game where you're going to have a big advantage rebounding inside, can you talk a little bit about that matchup?
DS: Nevada is a team that is probably the most similar to us in the league outside of La. Tech because they have some athletic kids in their forward spots. It's a good matchup for us. They also have a wing player, Brandi Fitzgerald, that's very athletic kid but they're not a real physical team, they're a real aggressive defensive team but not real physical as far as putting a body on you when the rebounds come around. If we can just keep being relentless, especially offensive rebounds, we can get some putbacks against them and some extra shots. The last couple of games we haven't really went to the offensive rebounds all that well. It's something that we've got to get back to, and if we do that then you can put a lot more pressure on Nevada to do different things. But that's something that's been a strength of our but we've got to get back to doing that a little bit better. Obviously every league game is important but early on these two games are looking to be even more important given the way Fresno State is playing right now, can you talk about the importance of this week for the team and staying only one game behind Fresno and your goal of winning the regular season title?
DS: Yeah, you're trying to win a league championship and you've gotta try to find places on the road where you can sneak out a couple games. If you win all your home games that gives you eight wins right there. I really think that ten wins this year might win the league. You might tie for the title but I really think that ten wins might win the league. Then you're talking about getting two road wins if you can win all your home games. Championship level teams I don't think can go lose three games in a row, whether they're home, road, a mixture or whatever, we're in the middle of three in a row on the road so as I've said before, if we can get one win out of these three in the big picture we're gonna be sitting pretty good. Especially because La. Tech is a good team, Utah State's coming on and has gotten a lot better and then Nevada is one of the top three teams in the league. If we can get one win that's gonna be huge and if we can get the Utah State win, then we'll try to get real greedy and try to get the second win at Nevada but we've got to do all we can to for sure get one win in the next two games. Speaking of Fresno State, looking ahead a little bit at the schedule, in a weird scheduling quirk, you've got Fresno State back to back in March, how does that affect the way you prepare for a team? I know that same thing happened to the men's team a couple years ago with Nevada and it didn't make either of the head coaches very happen to have that happen.
DS: No, and it makes no sense. I've told our league people that in our meetings. I also don't like the fact that we'll be done with Utah State before we ever play some of the other schools. I just don't think you can have an honest, true league race with the kind of schedule that we have. All of the sudden you're done with two teams and you haven't seen another team and you may not be playing a team at their full strength later on in the year or early. It's kind of apples and oranges really, it's just not a real true race and I haven't been a real big fan of our schedule the past three years in league. It just doesn't make a lot of sense why we're playing Fresno back to back. But, they're playing really well right now, how will they be playing way back at the end of February or beginning of March. The way they play, they're shooting a lot of three and trying to speed the game up. Will those kind of teams be at their full strength that late in the season. Will those shots keep falling that late in the season when the fatigue starts setting in? That's the real key. I think teams that are a little more balanced, especially like we've been, we haven't chucked up as many threes as we have in the past couple years and I think really that's part of our success this year. We're shooting them when we need to and when we have to but we've got a better mix. By the time we get to Fresno State, who knows what's going to happen through injuries, good play, bad play. It's really hard to be to not even be ready to think about Fresno State yet, it's a long time away, they're a well coached team, they're playing really hard, they've learned from their non conference schedule so I think they're going to be a really tough team.


Singling out a player tantamount to laying blame on that player

Very disappointed to see a player singled out in a loss. It sets a dangerous precedent. Not only is it humiliating and disrespectful to the player, but it sends a negative message to the rest of the team and fans about that player.

Louisana Tech's two bigs shot 21 free throws making 17 of them. This seems to be the crux for the blame.

If we are to follow this pattern of blame, then who is to blame for Nevada's guards shooting 36 free throws making 24 of them in tonight's loss in Reno?

The TEAM is experiencing an outstanding season. We fans are loving every minute of it. The TEAM has worked extrememly hard, especially the seniors, of which 3 have been here four years. These two road losses should not signal a time to panic or lay blame. Rather as an opportunity to unite, communicate effectively and focus on the goals. WAC Champions and beyond.

Criticism vs. Motivation

I understand your point of view and I agree it is a tight line to walk but I think that Coach Spence's intent was not necessarily to single out Carla but to motivate her (you'll notice that in the interview he mentions that nobody on the team really had a good night either).

I think sometimes as a coach you have to walk that line when you're not getting the kind of production out of a player or group of players that you think you need. I also think that when you're dealing with players who are seniors (which Carla is) you expect more out of them because they've been with you for four (or more) years and they know what you as a coach expect out of them.

Coach Spence has been (in my observation) very fair in handing out praise as well as criticism.

Tight line to walk

Thanks for the reply it is thought provoking.

I believe Coach Spence does an outstanding job of saying positive things everytime he is asked about one of his girls. It usually is followed with what that player needs to improve. This is true in the post game radio interviews and in the interviews on this website.

I believe the intent was to motivate. I hope that if Carla has read it she understands it is meant to motivate her. And I hope that Coach Spence has communicated specifically that to her. From a fan's perspective it is difficult to gauge because we are not there on a daily basis. We do not see all the hard work in practice so we rely on forums such as this to gain an understanding. I had not seen that done before and I think it threw me for a loop.

The bone of contention is soley that the line was crossed. It is a tight line to walk and a delicate balancing act for sure. A coach must use whatever tool necessary in order to get the message across to the players. However, singiling out is appropriate for professional athletes.

It should be clear that Coach Spence is doing a tremendous job. I hope he is recognized for that by the rest of the conference.