bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 02/25/08

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 last week's game against San Jose State, their upcoming games against Nevada and Fresno State and talks about the contributions of his five seniors.

bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk about your win against San Jose State this past Thursday?
Darin Spence: San Jose State for us is always an interesting place to go to. It's a place that doesn't have a lot of atmosphere, it really puts a lot on your kids to be focused and bring a lot of energy otherwise it has the feel of just being in a practice session. This year it was a little different. They were fired up, their band was going crazy, there still wasn't anybody in the gym but they had a little chip on their shoulder trying to get themselves a win. I thought it was a real good effort on our part, from start to finish I thought we were focused on the offensive end and made good plays. Defensively we took their shooters out of the game for the most part. Of course it was a good win and any win's a good win especially on the road against one of the lower teams.

bc.net: In our past couple of calls you've talked about getting that 'killer instinct' to show in your team. You mentioned that two weeks ago your team had it for a half against La. Tech but you really seemed to have it for the entire game against SJSU. Can you talk about the building process and building towards that?
DS: It's something that teams as they mature they have to get it in their heads that when they get somebody down they have to keep going and not just back off. Our team just has a tendency to relax when we get up, it's not so much our guards as it is our forwards. They just kind of let down and we get silly fouls and teams get on the foul line and it just makes you have to get restarted again. The San Jose game, we got up, we had a good start, we got up on them and we kind of took a little step backwards they got on the foul line again and cut it to a seven point lead with about three minutes left in the first half, it was a media timeout and we just talked about finishing that last 2:36 as strong as we could. We really went on a big run to end the half and that really got us going. Then we had our toe stubbing start of the second half that we've had in a few games as well, but it wasn't as long, it was about a minute or so. They hit a couple tough shots, we missed a couple, but you could just feel the momentum change a little bit and it wasn't really what we were looking for. It probably lasted about a minute but after that we got going again, we took a little step in the area of just trying to put teams away.

bc.net: In that game against San Jose State Sherell Neal hit a couple threes and she hit one or two in the La. Tech game, is that something she's been working on?
DS: It's something in her game for four years that's been coming around and getting better. She's really a unique player. At the times when she coasts, that's the only thing with Sherell that I've tried to get her to do better is not coast so much, she has those times in games where she kind of disappears. But during those times when she's not a physical player, when she's not going after rebounds, when she's not taking it to the basket, now she can at least make a three point shot once in a while so I think that's kind of in her mind justifies her relaxing a little bit but in my mind it doesn't. So it's something we still gotta get her fighting through. It's nice for her to hit a couple of those but we don't want her doing that the majority of the game, we need her being that slasher and that physical player around the basket.

bc.net: Last week we talked about the importance for your team physically of this stretch of time and only having two games in about two and a half weeks and being able to heal up. How important is it for your team to be able to take a little time off and get refresh their mental side?
DS: It's kind of a double edged sword, you always need some time to heal up a little bit but at the same time you don't want to take away your edge. Our edge has always been that tough defensive team and trying to get up and down the floor. But I think with the other teams starting to beat each other at the top I don't think it's real bad to only have one game a week. It kind of makes the season seem a lot longer and it's a different routine but I think the biggest positive is it has allowed us to get a couple kids a little more healthier and get away from the bumps and bruises and it's allowed us to work on some thing in practice. I think with the senior leadership that we have in this group and the young kids with how eager they are to get better each day, I think that keeps us moving in practice even though we're not playing a game.

We practiced on Saturday and we were going to do a lot of shooting and running and a few of the kids in to my office before practice and asked if we could do some competition things and to me that was a great sign that they're hungry and they understand that right now we control what we do the rest of the way out. You just gotta guard that complacency if you're not playing and you don't wanna develop any rust but for two weeks now we've showed that that hasn't happened to us. It's worked so far so now we gotta take it into the next week.

bc.net: This week you've got two huge games against Nevada and Fresno State. You got a lot of help from Utah State who beat Nevada and Fresno State last week. Can you talk about the importance of these two games in the grand scheme of things?
DS: Number one they're home games and we've been playing pretty well at home and if we want to have any chance of staying in the regular season title hunt we gotta take care of those two games. Our kids have always been aware of where we sit in the standings, we've talked to them a lot about how the league race looks. Yes you go day to day and game to game but your kids have got to have a good understanding of the big picture. If you're talking about the big picture as a coach then you have to share that big picture with your kids and that's part of it. Then you have to hope that they're mature enough to realize it. We know we control our own path and where we go and how we finish and what seed we get in the tournament. The goal of ours has been to win the regular season title and that's still a very reachable goal for us. Nevada, we felt like we let that one get away from us at Nevada losing in overtime. I expect our kids coming in here to practice and prepare for Nevada first and then after that we'll take care of Fresno.

bc.net: How much different is it preparing your team, in years past you've been playing more for a seed in the conference tournament but this year you're playing for a regular season title.
DS: It's great for one. It's something that from the first day I got here I planned on doing so it's nothing that's a surprise for me. It's taken a little longer than what we thought but it keeps everybody a little hungrier. You've got things to play for and it's in my mind no way a surprise to any of us. We think this year we have the makings to do it but at the end of the day we're still playing for a seed in the tournament. No matter what happens in the regular season, you win it, you tie for it, you don't win it, it doesn't matter because you gotta win the tournament if you want to go to the NCAA tournament. That's just the way it is and we understand that as well but we know where we sit, we know how hard we gotta keep working we know what we have to do and so we're just setting out to just worry about what we control and that's how we play and what we do come game night. But again it starts before then in practice.

bc.net: This weekend you have five seniors who will be playing their final regular season games at the Pan Am, can you talk about the contributions of those five players, especially the three, Monique, Sherell and Carla who have played their entire careers here?
DS: I always break them down into the two groups, Irma's been a two year player for us, Anikia's been a two year player and those two have added a lot to our program. They came at the right time, they gave us some inside scoring, they gave us some ball handling and some outside shooting, they gave us a little experience when they came in and those two have done really well.

The other three, Monique, Sherell and Carla, it's hard for me to talk about how much they mean to us because they were in our first recruiting class. They're the first one who bought on to, "we like what you're saying, we like where you're gonna take this program." They're the ones that came in and jumped into a program that was lost back then. We were in a state of change and instability and I have a lot of respect for those three. I've watched them grow up and it's been a fun part of my life seeing that and just watching their every day growth. As basketball players, they've each added their own little piece to the puzzle. A lot of it's been good, they've weathered the storm through the tough times and now they're three of the biggest reasons that we're having the kind of success we're having this year. That'll be a tough night but I know we have a few games with them after that. We'll deal with their final departure when the season's actually done. I think senior night is some ceremonial thing that someone thought would be cool to do a long time ago but as I always tell our kids, every night is senior night because it's your last year. So why wait to get excited and all geeked up for one night when you should be doing it every single night.

bc.net: This will be your second go around with Nevada but you haven't played against them since January 26th, one of your two overtime losses in conference. What's different about their team this time around?
DS: Nevada, they don't change much. They're a lot like us they do what they do and they're real scrappy. They try to get up all over you and disrupt your timing when you're on offense. Their defensive play, they like to be as aggressive and in your face as they can. Their kids have always hit a wear down point in the season and it's happened every year. I don't know if they're going through that yet, I know they lost a couple of games but that could be happening again. We know that we have to handle the pressure, we know that we have to take care of the ball, we know that we can score on them because we scored a lot of points at their place and we know we can defend them it's just a matter of doing it for 40 minutes. It just gets back to us doing what we do.

bc.net: This is your first meeting against Fresno State and we've discussed your feelings on the back-to-back scheduling. Jaleesa Ross is hitting 46% of her three pointers this season and your team has the best 3 point percentage defense in the WAC, what can you tell us about that matchup and the way your team plays on defense in guarding the three?
DS: Our philosophy is to play the three point shot pretty tough. The teams that have good three point shooters, we try to chase them off their shots. The majority of the kids that are spot up shooters in this league or at this level or any level except the professional level, they're not real good at going off the dribble and making plays. So what you do is you chase them off the thee point shot and make them play to a weakness and not a strength. Then what you're faced with is, if they are shooting a long shot it's a different rebound situation and you've gotta really concentrate on that a little better but I always think that when teams start hitting threes on you it's just a big energy zapper. You're running around, you're playing tough defense and then they throw it out and hit a three, it takes a lot out of you. So we try to take that out of the equation right from the beginning. I haven't seen Fresno we watched a Fresno tape before we played BYU because they played BYU but other than that I haven't watched them at all yet and I won't probably until Friday. We know that they'll try to spread it out and drive and toss the ball out but they're not much different than a San Jose State or Nevada or even a Utah State in that regard. We're just gonna have to get out and make them be drivers but at the same time you gotta be able to rotate and not let them get all the way to the basket.

bc.net: Is there any advantage to facing Fresno State at home first?
DS: I haven't really even thought about that. My biggest thought is how ridiculous the schedule is. I always go back to that. It makes no sense because here we could turn around and play them again a week later. What's more interesting than that, after the Hawai'i game, within a matter of between a Saturday and a Wednesday we could play Hawai'i again. So I guess if it happens that way, I guess playing Fresno back-to-back will have taught us how to prepare for that situation. It is what it is and you deal with it and I'll try to be as vocal as I can so that it doesn't happen to anybody. I guess the good thing is you'll be familiar with each other but playing them at home first, yeah it's nice to play them at home because I wouldn't want to go from here all the way to Hawai'i and then play them on a Thursday/Saturday situation. It's a home game and regardless of who we play we need to take care of the home.

bc.net: In our very first interview you talked about winning all your home games, if you win these two this week, you'll have won all but one with your only loss coming to a now ranked UTEP team. Last season you talked about your team feeling a little out of their comfort zone at the Pan Am, but this season it really has been your home.
DS: It's been a big part of our success, obviously we've had more home games this year. We practice we in the Pan Am the majority of the time. I always believe that you practice where you're gonna play. We've been in there a lot, our kids are more comfortable in there, they're used to the lights, to the baskets, to the floor, it's not a surprise to us anymore. Girls have to be a little more comfortable than guys do, it's just the way it is. I always believe when you're comfortable, you do your best, No matter what field it's in, once you're comfortable with your surroundings you start to feel better, you start to play better and you're a lot more productive. I think that's the way it's been for us because we know we're going int here to practice every day. The other thing is UTEP beat us and we had that game won. You could've had an undefeated season but we also know that these last two home games are going to be difficult and we're going to have to play better than we've ever played at home for 40 minutes. The other thing with Fresno State is, they don't play Thursday. We've got a tough tough game Thursday night and then we've gotta turn around and play Fresno and it's their only game of the week. We're going to have to be really focused in what we do.

bc.net: If you win these two games you can pull a Les Miles and say that you were undefeated in regulation.
DS: Yeah that's right. That's the other thing, with three overtime losses, the thing that I'm really pleased about this team, even in those games where we might have gotten down, we've found a way to scratch and claw and get back into games. The game at Boise State where we came back and lost by one in overtime but actually had two shots under four seconds to win it. It has showed a lot of the courage and strength of this basketball team. In years past we'd just get pounded by 20 plus in those situations. We've been beat in overtime three times and I think our largest margin [of defeat] is seven points and those are just because we had to foul people and make them shoot free throws at the end of the game so they weren't even seven point games. I feel really good about this team. We're going to go into this last stretch looking to play our best basketball again and try to get to the big show.