Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 01/28/08 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 talks about last week's road trip to Utah State and Nevada and this week's games against Hawai'i and San Jose State. Can you talk a little bit about the game on Thursday night against Utah State?
Darin Spence: It was a great bounce back game for us after that La. Tech. We had a couple good days of practice leading up to it. I think our kids were real hungry and eager to get back on the floor and show that we're much better than what we looked like at La. Tech. Utah State is a hard matchup for us because they've got some smaller, penetrating guards, it was just a good team win for us to bounce back especially on the road. Sherell Neal and Anikia Jawara had 34 points and 12 rebounds and but to me the stat that really stood out were the 9 assists. Can you talk about those?
DS: Yeah, they did a good job of moving the ball and not forcing shots. There's been times, especially in Anikia's case where she's thrown up shots that were ill-advised or forced some where she could have kicked the ball back out and tried to get it back. But both of them did a much better job of moving the ball and we had some other players that were stepping up and doing a good job, they were unselfish and that led to them being a lot more effective as well. In two games against Utah State combined for 71 points, 22 rebounds and 14 assists and 7 steals, what is it about Utah State that brings out that kind of game in them?
DS: Utah State has some longer and pretty solid athletes at their forward spots. They have to defend a lot more solid to take their points away and I think that gets them more focused on the offensive end. I also think that Anikia and Sherell are a lot more explosive than what Utah State has, they're stronger and they do a good job of using their experience. I think the other side of it is Utah State tries to get out and guard our guards so that leaves them a lot more one on one and they can use their quickness to get by them and get good shots. Can you talk a little bit about the game on Saturday against Nevada?
DS: Our kids did a really good job from start to finish. We made some mistakes along the way, we could have done a few things better and come out with a win. But in the big picture our kids did everything they could have done and we spread the ball around, we played good team offense and played really good team defense in a tough environment. Nevada was picked second or third depending on what poll you looked at in the preseason and they're a very good team, very athletic. It was a tough game for us. It was real unfortunate that we couldn't pull out the win, certain things occured that were out of our control but I was really proud of our players. Nevada shot 44 free throws compared to your 25, what was the difference that allowed Nevada to create that disparity?
DS: It was unfortunate in a way, everything that we were doing on the offensive end in the first half, throwing the ball inside, we were cutting, our release, everything was going to the basket and we were getting rewarded and getting fouls called. We shot most of our free throws in the first half. Then in the second half we were doing the same exact thing and we weren't getting to the foul line. That had a big effect on how the game changed, it allowed their perimeter players to latch on to our perimeter players even harder because they knew they weren't getting penalized. We threw the ball inside a lot in the second half and that was the unfortunate thing, we stuck with our game plan but we weren't getting rewarded, we weren't getting to the foul line. I think that right there changed the whole complexion of the game and their aggressiveness rose and we got a little timid. I think our kids got frustrated as I did as well. The team had 24 turnovers in the game, what were those a result of and what does the team need to do to get that down to a number that you think is acceptable?
DS: We've done pretty good for the most part this year in not turning the ball over. Nevada is an athletic team, they're very scrappy they're one of those teams on the defensive team, they get right up in your nose, they hold you, they push you, they hit you and they hope the officials get tired of calling it kind of like the old John Thompson Georgetown defense. A bunch of their steals, there were a couple trips where they flat out knocked our guards down and the ball came loose and they grabbed it and shot layups. That was a few of them, those we really couldn't control, but we've been pretty good all year taking care of the ball. I think against Nevada, next time we play them we just got to keep throwing it inside and get them to drop off and help in the post more and I think that will relieve some pressure on our guards. By and large our guards did a good job, Nevada's a really good team. We know we had a shot at it and we just kind of let it get away from us. In your five losses this season, you've held leads in all five of them, and had leads late in three of those games, UTEP, UNM and Nevada. Knowing that you could have very easily won each of those five games depending on a bounce or a call here or there, how do you approach that situation, are you into moral victories?
DS: No, our kids were really angry after the Nevada game because we've talked about how for three years now we've been knocking on the door and we're tired of knocking on the door we want to go through the door, we want to go to a whole other level. To do that, our forwards need to make some shots down the stretch, we came up empty a couple of times. We have to make the officials blow some whistles so we're shooting free throws and our guards have to do a better job of handling pressure. At La. Tech and at Nevada was kind of the same thing. I see as head coach what has to happen, somebody in our backcourt , some of our other guards have got to step up their ball handling and give Madison some help. She's out there getting beat up and what that's done is it's taking her away from getting some shots. Monique didn't play particularly well, we're going to make some adjustments and I'm going to try to give Brittany Palmer our other freshman guard who's really quick and fast, give her some minutes this week and see if we can get someone else out there to help take some of the load off of Madi and let her get over there where she can catch and get some shots off. Especially where people like Irma [Kmataite-Smith] and Monique being seniors, haven't stepped up in some of these bigger games and provided their senior leadership like they've need to or get themselves in positions to make some shots so what that does then is it makes some of our other freshmen have to step up and carry the load. We've been going through that and we're at the point with this team where that shouldn't be the case. Our senior guards need to step up their game because it can't all go on Sherell and Anikia and our younger guards. Hannah's doing a great job and Tyshae is playing really well, Madi is doing a good job we've just gotta get better play out of Monique and Irma for one. I think if that will happen then that will take some pressure off of the other people and we'll see what Brittany Palmer can do. Monique Bribiescas appears to be in a little bit of a shooting slump having only scored 5 points in the past three games and more importantly as a point guard, only 5 assists? How much of that has to do with the types of teams you're playing and how much of that has to do with the ebbs and flows a long season and what does she need to do to get going?
DS: Our last three opponents, La. Tech, Utah State and Nevada have really aggressive, quick guards. Those players bother Monique, they have from day one when she arrived on campus. That's just something mentally that she's got to get through. She's good against the ones that don't get up and really get on you but our last three opponents are the kind that aren't going to let you away. She's just got focus and she's got to keep improving and make better plays against those type of teams. It's frustrating because she's a senior and she's been through all the experiences but we're at that point now that she's got to raise her level of play. If not then what do we do? We've got two freshmen point guards out there running our team for us, which I don't have a problem with but at the point in our program where we heavily rely on our seniors. She's just got to step her game up. Last week you talked about how you were disappointed in the practice and preparation and general lack of focus by the players during the week, how were practices last week?
DS: They were very good. We were back to being the team that I've seen most of the year. They were hungry, they were focused, we have a group of guys that we practice against, we beat up on them pretty good. Actually won a bunch of the scrimmages that we did against them. You could just see the difference. I don't know if that loss snapped us back into reality or just embarrassed us but the kids responded really well. In between the two games, Friday when we were at Nevada, we didn't do much. We went to the gym and let them shoot around a bit. Then on gameday we had a pretty energetic 40 minute shoot around time. We also worked on some defensive stuff kind of a mini practice. They were focused then and that carried over to the game against Nevada as well. We prepared much better, our concentration level was good which was why we played better those two games. Up next you've got Hawai'i on Thursday night. Hawai'i is 2-4, 8-11 but has won two of it's last three conference games, albeit against SJSU and Idaho. What can you tell us about Hawai'i?
DS: Well I can tell you this, they've beat us twice at home the past two years. It's been a really interesting series between the two of us, we've won twice in Hawai'i and they've won twice here. They've got a big front line, she was just named WAC Player of the Week, she had 25 rebounds in her last game. She's a good player, she can score around the basket, she's really good at rebounding and blocked shots and they've got another couple bigger kids like that. They've got some smaller guards that look to penetrate. They're a team that if you don't show up and give it your all, especially at home, they can beat you. They're a different team on the road versus what they are at home, at least they have been this year, but our kids know that we've lost to them twice at home. Our players have been through those two games and they know they're going to have to be ready to go. You touched on Tanya Smith who's averaging a double-double and had 25 rebounds against Idaho. What do you need to do to neutralize her inside?
DS: It will help if we're solid on our offensive end, if we're getting good shots, that way we're not out of position chasing them to their offensive end. We've got to force her to work for everything she gets. We don't ever try to shut somebody down, we just try to make them work hard for everything. Then we can't let her get offensive rebounds. We've had success against her in the past because we're pretty athletic and our forwards will match up with her. We just need to make her work and make her earn everything and not let her get anything easy. On Saturday you've got the Pack The House challenge against San Jose State. San Jose State is struggling at 2-17 and 1-5 in conference and are coming off three games in five days, including an even more bizarre scheduling deals that we talked about last week facing Fresno State twice in four days with another game sandwiched in between. Is there any danger with them coming in having to play five games in 11 days and maybe feeling backed into a corner at all?
DS: Yeah, well they had a couple coaching changes last year and then this year they have a new coach, but they have talent. They're an athletic team with some smaller quick guards. They've got a kid, Brittany Powell, that was on the All-Freshman team, she's a good solid post kid. Natalie White, one of their guards is scoring well. They have the talent and athleticism, you just don't know when they're going to put it all together. That in itself will keep us focused into that game. We don't talk much with our players about what teams' records are because we always tell them once you get into conference play it doesn't matter. You play them twice and if you're the better team and you think you can sweep them then you better try to do it. As we try to win the league title you've got to win your home games so regardless of who it is we know we need to be focused to win our home games. They're a very young team, with only four upperclassmen and really only three of them are making significant contributions. is this a game where you think your senior leadership and experience is a big advantage for you especially at home?
DS: Absolutely. No question it has to be. I'm on our five seniors every day, I just talked to them again today, "this is your last go around, so you better be ready to sacrifice everything for it for us to reach our goals." I challenged them and asked them, "are you doing all you can do?" Because a lot of times seniors can get you over the hump or they can get in the way, it can go either way. if seniors aren't going to come out and do their job and be good leaders and compete for you, then you're better off playing freshmen. For the most part our seniors have done a good job of being our leaders and I don't see that changing any time soon. I expect them to be hungry because reality is going to set it quickly, we only have 10 games left, time is running out on them and their careers are going to soon come to an end so they better be doing all they can to help us be the best team possible.


Guard Play

Coach Spence referred to Brittany Palmer getting some minutes in a move that makes all the sense in the world. Putting Madison in the 2 spot would free her from the constant pressure applied to the point. Also, it allows her to move without the ball, looking to get open for more opportunities to score. What do you think will make or break this from happening on a consistent basis?

Guard Play

I don't think that anything specific will keep or enable this from happening on a consistent basis (although, based on the interview, Monique's play factors greatly into this). I think any added depth off the bench that the Aggies can get will help them tremendously, not only for the remainder of this season but next season as well.

I don't know if Coach Spence is looking to permanently move Madison from the 1 spot because she's too valuable to the team as a floor general, but if he can get a second guard to handle the ball more in the offense, that enables Madison to move around and break free from her defender and get some more open looks at the basket utilizing screens, as well as drive to the basket, which she is pretty effective at doing.