#25 Butler Returns To Horizon League Play At Valparaiso

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LEAGUE RESTART: Butler, ranked 25th in this week's Associated Press (A.P.) national poll, returns to Horizon League action with a game at state foe Valparaiso on Saturday, Jan. 3. The first game of 2009 for both teams is scheduled for 7 p.m. (CT) at the Athletics-Recreation Center on the Valparaiso campus and will be televised on WFYI Digital Television in Indianapolis and on ESPN360.com. The Bulldogs (11-1, 2-0 Horizon League), who won a pair of league road contests in early December, closed out the 2008 portion of their schedule with a 72-68 victory over a strong UAB squad on Tuesday, Dec. 30. It was Butler's third straight win, after the team's lone setback this season at nationally-ranked Ohio State on Dec. 13. Valparaiso (4-9, 1-1 HL) snapped a five-game skid with a 78-47 victory at home over North Park. The Crusaders improved to 3-1 in the Athletics-Recreation Center. Saturday's game at Valparaiso will be Butler's third consecutive Horizon League road test.

Butler is 11-1 for the third consecutive year and for the second time under head coach Brad Stevens.

BEST STARTS: The Bulldogs have tied the second best 12-game record in Butler basketball history. Butler's 2001-02 team both posted a 12-0 start for the best 12-game records. Seven other Butler teams started with 11 wins in the first 12 games.

POLL POSITION: Butler has climbed into the "Top 25" of the Associated Press (A.P.) national poll for the third straight year. The Bulldogs are ranked 25th in this week's A.P. poll and 28th in the ESPN/USA Today national poll. Butler was ranked in both polls for a school- and Horizon League-record 19 consecutive weeks last year.

Butler is ranked third in this week's CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25.

YEAR END REVIEW: Butler closed out the 2008 calendar year with wins in 29 of 33 games. It was the second-winningest year in Butler basketball history, trailing only the 30-4 mark the Bulldogs recorded in 2001. Butler began 2008 with a victory at home over Valparaiso and ended the year with a victory at home over UAB.

LAST TIME OUT: The Bulldogs rallied to overcome a 13-point deficit and pulled out a four-point victory over visiting UAB five days after Christmas. It was Butler's sixth victory in as many home games this season. UAB, led by talented forward Robert Vaden, built a 38-25 lead in the final minute of the first half, and the Blazers took a 38-27 advantage to the locker room at halftime. But the Bulldogs, behind freshman guard Shelvin Mack, exploded with an 18-4 run in the first five minutes of the second half to take the lead, and UAB was left to play catch-up for the rest of the final period. Butler built its largest lead at 62-52 with 6:44 remaining and led by seven points, 70-63, with 0:14 left. Vaden led all scorers in the game with 23 points, while Mack paced the Bulldogs with 22 points.

Butler extended its homecourt winning streak to 10 straight games.

WINTER HEAT: Freshman Shelvin Mack hit his first three-point field goal against UAB just over a minute into the second half. That shot started a run that saw the 6-3 guard record five three-pointers and a pair of free throws in just over five and a half minutes! His final three-point shot broke a 45-45 tie and gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. Mack, who tallied just four points in the first half of the game, out-scored the Blazers, 17-7, in the first seven minutes of the final period to spark Butler to its 11th victory. The five three-point field goals were a career-high for the first-year Butler player and his 22 points in the game tied a career-best.

Shelvin Mack has averaged 16.0 points over Butler's last six games.

DIALING LONG DISTANCE: The Bulldogs shot a season-best 50% (10 of 20) from beyond the three-point arc in their victory over UAB. Butler hit three of seven long-range attempts in the first half and then connected on seven of 13 (.538) three-point attempts in the final 20 minutes. It was the fourth time this season that the Bulldogs hit at least 10 three-pointers in a game.

Butler is 7-0 this season when hitting at least nine three-point field goals.

INSIDE JOB: Sophomore forward Matt Howard balanced Butler's outside attack against UAB with a strong inside presence. The 6-8 forward hit five of seven shots against the Blazers, and he added nine of 12 shots from the free throw line. Howard scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, including al nine of his free throws. His scoring total matched his final pre-Christmas game, when he tallied 19 points and a season-high 14 rebounds in Butler's victory over #14/12 Xavier.

Matt Howard has scored in double-figures in four consecutive games.

CHARITABLE WORK: For the second straight game, Butler used a strong second half performance at the free throw line to seal a victory. The Bulldogs hit 18 of 24 (.750) free throw attempts in the final 20 minutes against UAB to help squelch any comeback attempts by the visitors. Butler scored 12 of its final 14 points against the Blazers at the charity stripe. The Bulldogs hit 26 of 30 (.867) free throws in the final 20 minutes, including 15 of 16 (.938) in the final 5:15, in their pre-Christmas victory at Xavier.

After shooting just .650 from the free throw line in the first six games this season, Butler is hitting at a .772 clip from the charity stripe over the past six contests.

LEAGUE HONOR: Freshman Gordon Hayward was named Horizon League Player of the Week, after helping Butler to a victory at #14/12 Xavier. Facing a nationally-ranked opponent for just the second time in his young career, Hayward responded with a second "career" performance. In addition to posting his first collegiate double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds), Hayward recorded a career-high four blocked shots and notched a career-best three steals in the win. He hit a career-best 10 of 10 shots from the free throw line, and he had no turnovers in a career-high 38 minutes. Earlier this season, Hayward scored a career-high 25 points against nationally-ranked Ohio State.

BULLDOG BITS:

•The Bulldogs, led by freshman Gordon Hayward, out-rebounded UAB, 31-23. Hayward finished with a team-high nine rebounds, including a career-high four offensive rebounds.

•Sophomore Zach Hahn returned to action after missing two games with illness and scored eight points against UAB. He came off the bench and connected on both of his three-point field goal attempts in the game.

•Sophomore Shawn Vanzant matched his career scoring high with six points in 16 minutes against UAB. The 6-1 guard also had four rebounds in the game.

•Butler is leading the Horizon League in scoring margin (+12.1) and three-point field goals (9.0).

•Butler's Shelvin Mack is the top scoring freshman in the Horizon League. He ranks eighth overall with a 13.3 average, just ahead of teammate Gordon Hayward (10th, 12.8).

•Butler boasts three of the top seven players in the Horizon League in three-point field goals made. Shelvin Mack ranks third (2.1), Gordon Hayward is fourth (2.0) and sophomore Zach Hahn is seventh (1.8).

•Gordon Hayward continues to lead the Horizon League in three-point field goal shooting (.453). He ranks fifth in the league in field goal shooting (.479).

•Gordon Hayward is the lone player in the Horizon League to rank in the "Top 10" in the league in scoring, rebounding, field goal shooting, three-point field goal shooting, free throw shooting, three-point field goals, steals and blocked shots!

•Sophomore Matt Howard ranks second in the Horizon League in offensive rebounds (3.3) and blocked shots (1.3). He stands fourth in rebounding (7.2), sixth in scoring (13.8) and ninth in free throw shooting percentage (.765).

•Shelvin Mack has hit all 20 free throws that he has attempted in Butler's six road games this season. Gordon Hayward has connected on 18 of 22 (.818) free throws on the road this season.

•Butler is ranked second in the RPI behind Pittsburgh. The Bulldogs have been in the "Top 10" in the RPI for most of the young season.

•Butler's 11 Division I opponents this season boast a combined record of 87-50 (.635), with 10 of the losses coming to the Bulldogs.