"We have a long stretch between games. It's not ideal but it is the way the schedule came out, four games in eight days. The players will be excited to play on Saturday, then Tuesday, Friday, Sunday and Wednesday.
"This was a big week for us. We have to get better. We have a long way to go. I was glad to play Samford. I think they presented a different problem for you than in most openers. They were well coached. I think they showed our kids some things on film that they have to work on. Obviously, we missed a lot of shots after making a lot of shots.
"Shooting has been a focus for our kids this week, finishing layups and driving to the basket, those kind of things. Rebounding has been a constant concern for us.
"It has been a good week. We have had a couple of long practices. Today will be shorter. And we will get to play Grambling Saturday at one. They are coming off a trip where they lost to William & Mary, then went and played a really good (George Washington) team and got beat there. But they were in both games, played both teams really well. They have a 3, 4 player who is averaging 22 points per game or had 22 and is an athletic senior. Any time you have to go against a senior who is leading the team in scoring, that is always a concern.
"I am glad to be playing someone on Saturday instead of practicing."
What would you like your shooting percentage to be?
"I like our fives to be the 60s. Your fours, because they have a mixture of shots, they need to be close to the 50s. I would like Dom (Dominique Dillingham), Kayla, Tori (Victoria Vivians), Blair, Morgan and Jazz (Jazzmun Holmes) to be in that 44 percent range. And in the 33% range from the three-point from any position.
"If we don't get our layups off of the press in transition we wouldn't have shot over 30%. I think we shot 32% for the (Samford) game. If we don't shoot that, then we are shooting in the 20s.
"Some of it was bad shot selection. Some of it was the balls didn't go in. Some of it was the kids pressing, trying to do to much. I'm not real concerned about a couple of those kids because it is not going to happen very often."
How do you ease the freshmen in during the first year?
"Well, with Jazz (Jazzmun Holmes) and T (Teaira McCowan) they are getting thrown in pretty quick. And there really is no other way to do it. I said this a couple of times. Last year we were bringing two seniors off the bench. We started two seniors. Then when Morgan (William) had to come out you were replacing her with a senior. So, you really had three seniors coming off the bench last year. And all of them had started during their careers. Right now, we are bringing in a freshman off the bench at point. And she has never started. And we are bringing in three sophomores, Kayla, Blair and LaKaris, off the bench, all of whom have never really started or played any significant meaningful minutes any length of time. They have played meaningful minutes but not many. So that is what we replaced the four seniors with. They have to grow up in a hurry. I think the youth of this team kind of gets lost in the shuffle of things. We are a really young basketball team, inexperienced. And with that comes some immaturity in how to handle certain things. They are great kids but we have to toughen up in certain areas. But we are not tough because of our inexperience and youth."
Have you seen improvement from your bigs this week?
"It is coming. It is a slow process. T is learning what she can and can't do. Kids want to play so they don't want to get in foul trouble. She was in foul trouble the first two games. So, this last game I thought she was a little passive. I also think we ran a lot of stuff that didn't involve her in the low post. That is my fault. So, we have to engage with her and get her involved a little bit more. But she, and especially Chinwe Okorie, have to realize that you can't let (a) 6-foot (player) stick in your rear and move you. You have to be able to move her. Chinwe has really come on. She has really made some big improvements. She did a great job defensively. She is out denying, she is hedging. And she is a player who hasn't played the game that many years. We need those kids, we need to have an inside presence. It needs to be more than an accidental layup ever now and then."
What would you say the identity of this team will be, or what would you hope that it will be?
"I think we are still figuring that out right now to be honest with you. We need to have a balance. Our guard play should be pretty good. Offensively, Tori, Dom and Mo (Morgan William) are pretty good players, can break you down, create type players a little bit. I think Blair is a space eater who is going to create space for everybody else. They are going to have to go over there and respect her. I think Kayla's game is a mid-range game. I like our guard play. But I also love our size. I think the challenge with our staff right now is trying to develop all of this. But our five players are still inexperienced. Chinwe is still an inexperienced player. Sherise (Williams) is a senior and brings something totally different than Chinwe and T. At some point I have to get a team ready for the season and the conference. I can't play 14. That is the way it is. It is really a challenging time right now. But I think we are still learning our identity and who we can rely on when we need a go-to bucket. I know who wants to take the shot. And that is good because you have to have somebody who wants it. Obviously, Tori is that player who has been in that role. And I think Morgan wants to be that player. She made a big one in Oxford last year. I think she likes and relishes that opportunity. So, that is a good starting place. You have to have kids like that who want to be in that environment and who wants to have that opportunity."
How are the substitution patterns made up now that the game is in quarters? How does that present a challenge in that you could have a stretch where the kids are playing eight straight minutes?
"I don't know if anyone noticed but our best lineup defensively the other night was during the second quarter. You know who was on the floor? You had Morgan, Blair, Dom, Chinwe and Ketara and Bre a little bit. That was the team that shut them down, held them to two points. They worked really hard. I'm thinking back to Nebraska in the mid-2000s they ran five-in, five-out. And their five, you would look at them and say, 'who is this group?' 5-foot-6, 5-foot-7, unathletic looking kids. And I'm telling you they were dogs, guarding your tail and making life miserable. They were overachievers who did exactly what Coach needed them to do. I remember they stuck it to us in Lincoln in our Elite 8 year. But that was their philosophy, five-in, five-out. And they did it all year long. I'm watching that letting that go through my head. I'm watching the two great men's games last night. I watched Oklahoma and North Texas on the women's side the night before. And Rutgers and Seton Hall. So, I'm watching everybody and I'm thinking I have a kid like that and she needs to be doing that. Or my kid does that a whole lot better than that kid. You start thinking as a coach trying to piece it all together. The bottom line is I love the 15 that I have and I'm not trading them for anybody. But we have to do some things better. We may be ranked number 10 right now, but I don't need to play Samford one game to realize that we have a long way to go to live up to number 10.
How is Grambling different than Samford?
"They are going to play some zone-press. They play zone and man defensively. I thought that Samford would zone us a little bit but they didn't. They didn't need to. We worked a little bit against the zone-press yesterday. Obviously, they are really athletic. Coach does a good job with them. We'll continue trying to do what we do, and play our style. I think that is our strength. There may be an eight minute stretch where somebody has to get a quick timeout. To me, that plays into our favor. We closed practice yesterday with a ten minute scrimmage with no stopping and no substituting and both teams were pressing up and down. I would rather do that than get on the line and run 34s. I think my team would too. I was really impressed with the toughness of those ten (players). They went hard. And that was after a long workout. We had already been in there three hours. I like where the conditioning is with most of our kids right now."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.