bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the successful road trip and getting the sweep with wins over Hawai'i and San Jose State.
Darin Spence: That's gotta be one of the tougher trips you can take. You've gotta leave very early, get to the islands, try to keep your focus, keep the group focused, play the game and then head back to the mainland and play a team that's not having a good year and you're fighting fatigue and all that stuff. It's a really tough trip. I was pleased with how our players pulled out two wins.
bc.net: The Hawai'i game, outside of a little lapse right before halftime that allowed them to get back into the game, looked to be one of the more complete performances of the season.
DS: We played well. I think it's a lot of the lessons showing up at the right time. Hawai'i has a really nice team. They've gone smaller so they have a lot more scorers on the floor, they're quicker and faster. I thought defensively we did a good job of taking their scorers away. I know their freshman post player has had some good games but can a kid like that carry the team? Can she do it night in and night out? That was kind of our game plan to not give her anything easy but really make her have to work for it and see if she can carry her team. Defensively we started to rebound a little better. I thought Day Day got some really big defensive rebounds for us in the second half which allowed us to get the ball back. Offensively I thought we executed well. First half we had a couple scorers going and the second half we had a couple other scorers going. I thought we showed a lot of balance.
bc.net: Your team did a good job on Kamilah Jackson and also on Megan Tinnin getting her into early foul trouble who is their designated three point shooter.
DS: Yeah and with Tinnin, she's such a quick shooter. She gets her shot off really fast. Being a senior, she's added some other elements to the game. I think she scored two baskets early in the game off cuts to the basket which didn't catch us by surprise, it's something she's added to her game, but we wanted to chase her off the three point shot so you make her shoot a tough two and just hope for the best.
The other side of that is when you're playing against a good scorer, you've got to make them play defense and when you do that you can get the other team's players in some foul trouble and I thought we did a great job with that. We put ourselves in a position to take her out of the game. They have Arbuckle who is a real athletic forward that does a good job, we did a good job keeping her off the offensive rebounds and just kind of picking and choosing who we wanted to have to score to beat us. The bad thing I guess is that their point guard, Kanekoa, kind of got going on us and it wasn't the defender who was guarding her, whether it was Jasmine Lowe, Kaitlyn, Madi or Andrea, it was more of the people that were supposed to be helping. Once we put that together, especially second half, we did much better on her.
I think you've just gotta keep stepping up your defensive play each game that you get out on the floor.
bc.net: The final six minutes of that Hawai'i game your team really put Hawai'i away down the stretch maybe for the first time all season.
DS: Yeah and that's a time when your team shows a lot of maturity and some growth. You like to see that as a coach. I thought offensively we were a lot more patient with what we were doing. We showed a lot of awareness of where to take the ball and who to get it to. Of course your scorers have to step up and be able to knock shots down. I thought Madi hit some big shots and Jasmine Lowe had a good shooting performance. I think it was just a team effort that gives you a chance to be successful.
Then the other thing is you break a team's will. We talked about that at halftime. We had a chance to do that but we let up in the first half. So the second half I was pleased to see us do that on both ends of the floor.
bc.net: The San Jose State game was a game where they just hung around the whole time and you were able to get to the free throw line, Tabytha Wampler went 10-for-10 in the game from the stripe and you were able to pull out the win.
DS: We talked about before that game, you never know what a team like that is going to do, who's going to play, when will it click for them. I feel for them and I feel for their coach. They've had more injuries than anybody should have in a season and we've had our share, but they've had quite a few. They fought and they battled and once they hit some shots I think they just keep riding it. It's not that we weren't defending, look at the score, it's not like they got a whole bunch of points. We did a decent job on that end of it, they just made some things happen on the offensive end, they threw a couple wrinkles at us. They had a few back screens that we didn't respond to until about the last six minutes of the game. They played a good game. Give them a lot of credit.
The other side of it is, I could see it coming. If you look back at the years when the San Jose State women were good, their home win-loss percentage on Saturdays was really good because they were getting those teams bouncing back over from Hawai'i. We've been through that before over there. It wasn't a surprise to me, it's like you're playing in quicksand. You just can't get going. Because of the lessons we learned from our non-conference games, we've been in some battles, our team responded and made plays when we needed to make them.
bc.net: You talked about some of the lessons your team has been able to learn through the non-conference and you put your team in a position at the start of the season and then again in the Thanksgiving Classic where you had to play games on back-to-back days. How much does that help in preparing for a road trip like this one you just had where even though you're not playing on back-to-back days, your day off in between isn't really a day off.
DS: You do set up your non-conference schedule to give your team different looks. You want to play different looking teams, different styles of teams. This is my 25th year, I've been on the men's side and on the women's side, I've been around the block and I understand what you have to do to get your team together. You can go out and buy 14 wins if you really want to but I don't chose to do that. My focus is on that end prize and playing for a championship at the end of the year. Those tests are only good if your team shows maturity and growth as you go through them. If you have a team that's not real strong mentally and they get beat and run for the hills and don't come out and compete down the road, then you don't really do yourself any justice. So as a coach you have to evaluate the team coming back. I think this team is capable of doing some really good things this year so I thought, "Let's go out and go test." I think this team can handle losing some tough games on the road or even at home when we got beat at Utah and Houston. But if we're playing those level of teams, it's gotta help us if we can keep that ball bouncing forward for us.
The one thing you don't know is what's around the corner, who's going to get hurt, who's not going to get hurt. I know that's part of the deal but at the same time we have not been healthy or at full strength this whole year and we won't be the rest of the year. It's been that work in progress and finding different players to stick in different holes which is exciting for me as a coach because I get to tinker with things. The key to it all is if you know your team is going to compete and go out there and get after it and not lay down and quit with six minutes left in the game, then you can play around and the coaches can make adjustments. That's what I'm so grateful for with this team because I know we're going to get out on that floor at give it our best.
bc.net: You've said all along that this season in the WAC was going to be the most competitive one since the Aggies joined in the 2005-2006 season and so far through the first two games we've seen that with Hawai'i taking Louisiana Tech to overtime, San Jose State hanging tough with you, Idaho beating Nevada.
DS: You get your eyes opened as you get through this race this year. I thought and I still do think that Nevada might be the best team in our league right now and then they lose their first home game to Idaho. It just goes to show you, Idaho is pretty darn good too, has a lot of players back, Louisiana Tech has a lot of players back, Boise State has had a good first semester and lost their first two on the road. It's gonna be a tough race. Whether you're playing at home or on the road you better be prepared and you better be ready for anything that a team throws at you that maybe you didn't see on tape in early games. They may throw something different at you or maybe a new player becomes eligible or someone else got hurt and they're shuffling lineups. You've just gotta be ready each day.
bc.net: You take on Nevada on Wednesday night, they had the best non-conference record heading into WAC play but got surprised by Idaho in their first conference game. Is there anything different about their style of play this season versus in years past?
DS: They're a mature team this year, they're an older team and they play like it. They're athletic, they're not big. They remind me of Houston this year. In the games that we've beaten Nevada we've always beaten them by double-figures. We've given so many games away to them, two last year where we just became dysfunctional at the wrong time and coughed the ball up. They're just a team that keeps coming at you. They're a team that really tries to score quickly. They don't want to take the ball deep into the shot clock, they want to play quick. Even in the half court they want to shoot quick. Defensively they're athletic and they try to create a lot of steals and try to force the tempo. That's the same as when the other coach was there. They're well coached. Ron Stewart who is their assistant coach, years and years ago was on Lon Kruger's staff at Kansas State on the men's side and he is really good. He brings a lot to that team. Jane Albright who is their head coach obviously is leading the way. They have a good scheme, they let their kids play and their kids do a really good job. They've got scorers all the way around and they'll be a very tough team to match up with.
bc.net: Saturday you head out to Fresno State. The Bulldogs are currently riding a 20-game regular season conference win streak but the teams they have played have pushed them this year.
DS: For us and our league it's Fresno State, they've been the bullies on the block for a few years now and this year is going to be no different. They're a team much like we are that goes out and plays tough non-conference opponents, especially on the road and test themselves. The thing that sticks out in my mind is that they've been successful and Jaleesa Ross has been kind of a quiet player this year so far which means at any time she could go off for 40 on somebody. Let's just hope it's not us on Saturday. She's really good, Haley Munro is really good. They have kids that have been on the top of the mountain and won the championship in our league and been to the NCAA tournament. They have that good positive experience that they can draw from once they get into tough games. They have two road wins to start the league off as well. They've got a rough trip, they were at Idaho Monday, then they've got LA Tech at home and then they've got us at home. They've got a busy week. By the time we get there let's hope they've been knocked around a little bit and are a little weary.
Our formula has been going into the league race, let's try to get three teams swept and let's split with everybody else. I think if you do that you'll give yourself a chance to play for the league title. That's kind of been our focus and that will remain our focus.