Monday, December 3, 2007
Deeper Meaning to 'Just a Win'
By Randy Harrison
Journal Staff Writer
LAS CRUCES Darin Spence might be able to fool all of us some of the time, and some of us all the time.
But he couldn't fool the player who has known him the longest.
The New Mexico State women's team whipped New Mexico 58-42 here Sunday, ending a 22-game losing streak to the Lobos in the process.
And Aggies coach Spence, 0-8 record to UNM by such unflattering scores as 81-47, 56-27, and 62-39, acted like it was no big deal.
"I didn't view this game any differently than I viewed the UTEP game or the Northern Colorado game," he said, straight-faced.
Asked if that's true, Madison Spence, freshman guard and the coach's daughter, laughed.
"No," she said. "I mean it's another game, but I think we wanted this one a little more than some of the other games."
That essentially describes what a Pan Am Center crowd of 1,370 saw in the history-making New Mexico State win.
It certainly isn't that other Aggie teams didn't want to end the embarrassment of getting beat like a stepchild. But in his fifth year at the NMSU helm and it is probably positive commentary on sticking with a coach through dark days in a program instead of pulling the hair-trigger Spence now has the talent, experience and wherewithal to do something about it.
It certainly meant a lot to 6-foot senior Sherell Neal, who made life hellish on UNM's posts for 33 minutes with her four blocks, three steals, eight rebounds and 12 points.
"It took four years," Neal said. "I'm tired of getting whipped by them. And then to come out and win by 16? It's just, I don't know, great."
The story, of course, was NMSU's defense and UNM's miserable 21 percent shooting. It wasn't a record for Aggie defensive dominance, by the way. The Aggies held powerful Holloman AFB to 7.2 percent back in 1976, when shooting the rock must have been an actual rock.
As for the Aggies' impact on UNM's miserable offense, "I thought we had about 90 percent to do with that," said coach Spence. "We forced them into tougher shots. I don't think (UNM's) Brandi Kimble was herself today. There's no secret that we wanted to double and make Dionne Marsh work for what she got."
The Aggies bothered the Lobos with their aggressive trapping underneath and the ability to deflect passes with their length and quickness. Brittany Henderson, a 6-2 junior whose father Jerome played for the Lobos, got her hands on numerous passes and dribbles that, if they didn't create turnovers, disrupted the Lobos' rhythm.
Senior forward Anikia Jawara got 11 points doing volume business 5-of-20 from the floor and also had a career-high 14 boards.
The biggest impact newcomer on this year's Aggies clearly will be Spence, who scored 10 points and ran the offense with calm, adding five assists and three steals to only one turnover.
"Offensively, I think she's the one they're all going to end up going to, because she understands the game so well," UNM coach Don Flanagan said. "She's a pretty darned good player. I would have recruited her, but I didn't think her dad would let her come."
Darin Spence later came clean on what the win means, at least, but added that a season isn't made on Dec. 2. It's just made a little sweeter.
"We have to be happy," he said. "And when midnight comes, we have to get ready for BYU."
Wednesday: New Mexico State at Brigham Young, 4:30 p.m.