bleedCrimson.net: Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 12/03/07

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 snapping UNM's 22-game winning streak in the rivalry series, Tyshae Walton's big impact in the game and talks about the upcoming games against BYU and UTEP this week.

bleedCrimson.net: First of all coach, congratulations on the win. Can you talk a little bit about the game and what it means to beat them in such a convincing fashion, there was no doubt, this was not just some fluky win?
Darin Spence: I thought our kids and our coaches, we were all on the same page going in, we were really upset from the UTEP loss and a lot of people think you have to get beat to learn something about yourselves, It helps you grow, we talked a lot about UNM, what we needed to do to guard them. We did a better job on our game plan than against UTEP. I'm really proud of the players and coaches, they really stepped up and put end to long ugly streak.

bc.net: How much pressure does it take off of the team from the standpoint of you're off to this great start and now that you've beaten UNM, now you don't have those people who might say "yeah but you didn't beat UNM"?
DS: That goes through your minds all the time, it's an amazing situation to be in. We've had years where we've started off slow and played well at end of year, and when you start well, now people want to know can you keep it going, you can't win either way, but that's nature of sports. We don't put a whole lot of thought into that. This team is pretty grounded, our focus is day to day, I know that's an old sports cliche but that's what we live by. We spend more time working on ourselves than worrying about the other team. In the game plan we give them [our players] a brief description of the other players and what they like to do, we don't give them ten page scouting reports, we worry about putting ourselves in the right position on the floor offensively and defensively. We believe that if we take care of the little things and give yourself a chance, the W's and L's will take care of itself.

bc.net: Was there a certain point in the second half that you knew that you had the game?
DS: About at the halfway point or so of the second half. We were up by about 13, about then I felt it was our day. We were making plays, we wore them down, we made them tired. What I don't understand is reading in the Albuquerque papers, the players from UNM were saying that we [NMSU] were prepared and they weren't. They had a whole week to get ready for us, we just had a couple days. We played the game against UTEP on Wednesday then we took Thursday completely off and practiced Friday and Saturday. Our kids really executed the game plan really well. In the second half I felt it was our day, probably about 6 minutes to go.

bc.net: I thought this was one of the most dominant defensive performances I've ever seen, men's or women's, can you talk about the defense and what you were able to do?
DS: Thank you. From day one, I talked about playing defense like this. Day one when I got here at the opening press conference, that's what all my career been about, playing defense like we played. Now we have a lot more pieces in play, we can do what I like to do. Our length, athleticism and our intelligence, we played a smart defensive basketball game, the kids bought into what we want to do. That game against UNM really started with our point guard [Madison Spence] and what she was able to do to their point guard, she [Amy Beggin] got a way from us a little bit early and hit some threes, then they gave her some fouls when we bumped into her and she flopped. Madison is bigger, and Beggin couldn't see over her. Our players did a great job of rotating and making [Dionne] Marsh play. Another huge key that gets overlooked was what Tyshae [Walton] did to Brandi Kimble. Kimble is an explosive scorer, I recruited her, I sat in her living room and Tyshae shut her down, she struggled the entire day. We talked about attacking [Amy] Beggin, [Dionne] Marsh and [Brandi] Kimble and wanting to make their other players beat us. They [UNM] didn't step up, they weren't confident enough, we're faster and quicker and that bothered them.

bc.net: As a coach, how satisfying is it for you to come up with a game plan and then have your players go out and execute it almost perfectly?
DS: It's why we do this job. You like to lead people and put them in a position to be successful. It's really rewarding, it makes coaches feel good. There are a lot of coaches who have plans but can't get from the head to the feet. We have games where the kids are doing what we want to do. The team is getting better and the coaches are getting better. It was especially satisfying to do it against UNM, I have so much respect for them, what they do and how they do it. It's much more gratifying because of who they are and how they go about things.

bc.net: Offensively, the team struggled a bit in the first half but I thought they showed tremendous patience even as the shots weren't falling, they weren't really forcing shots, what did you tell the girls to keep them in the framework of your offense?
DS: You know early on, Anikia [Jawara] missed shots but she was aggressive and attacking. Two days after the UTEP game we worked hard on our offensive execution, that's all we talked about at haltime. I talked about getting the same shots and we got a little more movement on the backside. We took them out of help position and it opened up lane. The middle of second half we had worn them down. We were running out and getting fast breaks. It'll be a whole different game up there but yesterday we were faster and we were smart in how we used it. To add on to that, it's our point guard, I know she's a freshman, Madison is a good player, she keeps us in our stuff. At UC-Irvine when we struggled, she did a good job of keeping everyone calm and keeping us in our stuff.

bc.net: Can you talk a little bit about Monique Bribiescas? I've been really impressed with how she's handled the situation at the point. Being a three year starter and having your job taken by a freshman, she's responded very positively and it seems like every time she gets into the game she's giving you her 110% effort.
DS: Last year, at the beginning of the conference season, we had Monique coming off bench, when the other freshman [Jazmyn Foster] went out with an injury, Mo was playing her best basketball coming off the bench. I knew it would be an easier transition. It's really helps her settle down and see things,when she comes in she adds a spark to us. Monique is a huge part of this team, she knows it, she's been very mature and accepting that role. She hit a big three in the game and she does good things for us. Just because she's not starting, she's still a big big part of this team.

bc.net: Going back to the game against UTEP, in the first half UTEP really worked the baseline well and got a lot of open layup and short jumpers, then you made an adjustment at halftime and all those open shots disappeared, it looked a lot like the whole game against UNM? What adjustments did you make and how much carryover on defense did you have from the second half of the UTEP game to the UNM game?
DS: The biggest thing of that was early on is we were just not aware. Everyone was staring at the ball too much, we didn't do job of guarding their big girl Piekarska and then when she started hitting shots, we had too many players staring at her and that allowed the others to slip open. We talked about position on the court, how you're aligned to the ball, how you're aligned to your man and positioning yourself between the ball and your man which is basic fundamental basketball. I learned growing up in L.A., back in the Wooden era. We did a much better job of being aware and being positioned in the second game.

bc.net: How much of an effect did coming back from down 10 at halftime and the energy you expended on defense, affect the play in overtime of that game?
DS: Well, obviously it affected it a lot, I think our last flub up, when the guard kid hit the deep three in the corner, that was a missed assignment. That shot kinda took it out of us right there, it deflated us, I could see it in our eyes. When we got to overtime it seemed like the harder tried the worse it got. We know we had that game won and it slipped away. We had to fine tune some things, I saw that in our next game against UHM. Our kids learned how important each possession is.

bc.net: You've got a pretty quick turnaround, you play BYU on Wednesday afternoon, how do you keep your players from "crashing" from their emotional high and how do you harness that feeling your players had on Sunday afternoon and parlay it into Wednesday's game?
DS: Well, we know it's a big challenge. BYU is a tough team, real similar to UNM. From a prep standpoint we don't have to do a lot of tinkering. It's just like this game plan. We have to guard against that emotional fall, I think the key to this is our depth. We have some of kids that didn't play a lot of minutes or maybe just played one minute. Having them, I talked to team about this all time, those kids are so important to our team, in practice today and tomorrow, they come in and drag the best out of other kids [starters], they know that when I call on someone else Wednesday night, they'll be ready to answer call. It's the next step for this team, we're 5-1, we're winning, the question is how do mentally adjust and put a streak together. Then we have to turn right around and go to UTEP on Saturday.

bc.net: What can you tell us about BYU, they're coming off back to back losses, one to UConn by a bunch, which UConn's been doing that to pretty much everyone this season, and then kind of a shocking four point loss to Sacred Heart?
DS: I think you take The UConn game and throw it right out the window. That's like watermelons and cherries, you're talking about teams on two different planets. BYU is physical, they're a lot like UNM and how they play. Offensively they try to spread you out, they've got a big post kid, they're smart players, they shoot the ball well. Defensively they play a bump and grind game on every possession.

We had good game with them last year here at our place, their size and strength just wore us down in the second half. They're another team where they don't beat themselves. They've got a couple new kids, they have a freshman point guard that's been playing a lot of minutes, she's a smaller kid. The upperclassmen have been through the battles, they've been to the NCAA tourney, they know what winning is about, they're probably angry and ready to come out and show what they are.

bc.net: Looking ahead to the UTEP game on Saturday, in the first matchup the team had a lot of problems with the size of UTEP, getting a lot of shots blocked but at halftime you came and and went right at their inside. Is that something that we can expect to see in the rematch?
DS: No question, we're still going to go inside and attack. We've got to go to free throw line more. We want to keep attacking, that doesn't change, we want to keep that no matter who we play. We want to play inside-out, so it helps when our perimeter players make shots and open things up. We'll have the same approach from game to game.