NCAA Berth On The Line Sunday vs. Cleveland State
2009-10 Butler Women’s Basketball
No. 2 Butler (23-8) vs. No. 4 Cleveland State (18-13)
Sunday, March 14, 2010 – 1:05 p.m. ET
Green Bay, Wis. – Kress Events Center
Bulldogs Playing For NCAA Tourney Berth On Sunday
An NCAA Tournament berth is on the line Sunday as the Butler women’s basketball team takes on No. 4 seed Cleveland State Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The Bulldogs, now 23-8 and winners of 11 of 12, are coming off a 69-55 win over Detroit in the HL semifinal Friday night. Sunday’s championship game will be televised live on ESPNU. The Bulldogs and Vikings split two meetings this season.
The Starting 5 - Butler’s Top Storylines
1. Title Tilt: No. 2 seed Butler, which has won 11 of 12, is aiming for the school’s second Horizon League tourney championship. The Bulldogs won the MCC tournament in 1996 under June Olkowski. This is the second championship game appearance for BU under Beth Couture, who led the team to the final game against Green Bay in 2007.
2. Player Of The Year: Senior forward Melanie Thornton has been named Horizon League Player of the Year as well as the league’s defensive player of the year. The Carmel, Ind., native is in the league’s top 6 in seven different categories, and in the top 4 in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots. Thornton is currently second in the HL with 15.3 points per game and she is also among the league leaders in rebounding (3rd, 8.5), steals (4th, 2.3) and blocks (2nd, 1.6). The 6-foot-1 senior has put up 10 double-doubles this season, and five in the last 10 games. She was also named this week’s Horizon League Player of the Week after averaging 21.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in a pair of Butler road wins in Chicago last weekend.
3. Hot Stretch: Butler has won 14 of its last 16 games, including 11 of its last 12. Green Bay is the only team to have beaten the Bulldogs since Jan. 14, and GB is no longer in the tournament. Over the last 16 games, Butler is shooting .455 from the floor and winning by an average margin of +12.6. BU’s offense has been balanced during that stretch, with five players averaing 7.8 points a game. Defensively, BU is allowing just 54.9 points per game, including holding six opponents to less than 50 points.
4. Coach Couture’s Battle: BU head coach Beth Couture successfully battled breast cancer during the offseason, and she has been recently deemed officially cancer-free. She was diagnosed last April and after 16 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatments, Couture is back on the sideline for her 8th season at Butler. Couture’s last treatment came just days before the season opener at Kentucky. Butler went 3-1 in its pink uniforms and continues to wear pink Nike shoes.
5. Lester, Pittman Capture HL Awards: Senior Susan Lester was selected as the Horizon League Sixth Player of the Year for her efforts off the bench this season. She averages 9.2 points per game and currently stands 10th on BU’s all-time scoring list. Junior Alyssa Pittman, a transfer from Eastern Michigan who scores 8.6 points a game, was voted to the league’s all-newcomer team.
Butler vs. Cleveland State: The Bulldogs are 22-11 all-time vs. CSU and have won four of the last six meetings. However, this is the first meeting in the series that will be played on a neutral floor. One of Beth Couture’s first big wins at BU came in the Horizon League quarterfinals at Cleveland State in her second season back in 2004. Couture is 13-5 against the Vikings.
This Year vs. CSU: Butler and Cleveland State split the two meetings this season, with each team winning on its home floor. CSU shot .534 and built an 18-point halftime lead to beat the Dogs 81-68 in Cleveland on Jan. 14. Melanie Thornton and Alyssa Pittman each had 17 points in the loss. Butler trailed late in the rematch on Feb. 13 but rallied to win 72-66. Melanie Thornton had 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Butler’s four double-figure scorers.
HL Tourney History: The Bulldogs are 20-19 all-time in Horizon League tournament games dating back to 1990. BU has won the tournament once, defeating Green Bay in 1996. Butler is 7-7 in the league tournament under Beth Couture.
Couture Is No. 1: Beth Couture, with 128 victories at Butler, sits alone atop BU’s all-time women’s basketball wins list. Couture passed Linda Mason, who coached at BU from 1976-84 and won 124 games. The record-breaking victory came at UIC on March 4.
Big Time Matchup: Although they won’t guard each other directly very much if at all, Sunday’s championship game pits two of the league’s top players against one another. BU’s Melanie Thornton is this year’s player of the year and defensive player of the year, and CSU’s Kailey Klein was the co-player of the year in 2009 and led the league in scoring this season.
Kailey Klein vs. BU: Viking star Kailey Klein averaged 24.0 points and 10.5 rebounds against Butler this season. She had 19 points and 12 boards in CSU’s win on Jan. 14 and scored 29 in Butler’s win on Feb. 13.
More On Mel: Melanie Thornton, the Horizon League Player of the Year, ranks in the top 6 in the Horizon League in seven different categories (see page 4). Thornton has at least 10 points in 23 of her last 25 games, and she has scored at least eight points in each game she has played this season. The senior has double-doubles in five of the last 11 games and was also named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year.
...Mel Moving Up: Melanie Thornton is fifth in BU history with 122 blocked shots, 17 short for fourth in school history. She is also battling teammate Susan Lester for a top 10 spot on BU’s career steals list. Thornton owns 157 career steals to Lester’s 153.
O-H-I-O: Butler is 25-10 against teams from the state of Ohio over the past four seasons. That includes a 6-3 mark against Cleveland State.
Ball Control: Butler has taken good care of the ball this season, ranking in the country’s top 60 with just 16.3 turnovers per game. Nine times this season, the Bulldogs have committed 14 turnovers or less. Butler had just nine turnovers last Saturday at Loyola, a season low. BU is second in the HL and top 60 in the country with a +2.19 turnover margin.
Best Shooting All Year: Butler picked a great time for its two best shooting nights of the year. BU is shooting 19-for-33 form 3-point range over the past two games. Against Wright State in the quarterfinal, Butler hit 9-for-15 from 3-point range. They followed that with a season-best 10-for-18 effort in the semifinal vs. Detroit.
Conference Wins Record: Last season, Butler set a school record with 14 league victories. The Bulldogs matched that mark this season with a second consecutive 14-4 season. BU is 49-21 (.700) in league play over the last four seasons.
Home Sweet Hinkle: Butler posted a 12-2 record at Hinkle Fieldhouse during the regular season. BU went 4-0 at home in non-conference play and went 7-2 vs. league teams at home before winning Wednesday against WSU. Butler is 22-6 at home over the past two seasons. When combined with the nationally-ranked men’s team, Butler basketball was 27-2 in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season.
Change Is Good: Following Butler’s 13-point loss at Cleveland State on Jan. 14, Beth Couture changed the starting lineup. The change paid off, as the Bulldogs went 10-2 and shot .455 from the floor with Terra Burns, Claire Freeman, Devin Brierly, Chloe Hamilton and Melanie Thornton starting. Couture has since made one more tweak to the lineup, adding Brittany Bowen to the lineup and now Butler has won 14 of 16.
Sharpshooters: As a team, Butler charts second in the HL and top 30 in the country with a .439 field goal percentage this season. The Bulldogs, who have shot 50 percent six times this season, have converted on 47 of 95 shots against Wright State and Detroit.
Just Make Shots: Sometimes basketball is simple: just make shots. Butler is 20-0 when shooting a higher field goal percentage than its opponent. The Dogs are 3-8 when the other team shoots better.
Depending On Defense: Butler’s defense has been the primary factor in whether BU wins or not. In 23 Butler victories, the Bulldogs are holding opponents to 53.5 points and .363 field goal shooting. In eight BU losses, the team is giving up 75.4 points per game and allowing .474 percent shooting.
In Butler’s Defense: Butler has held nine opponents to less than 50 points this season, winning all nine games. The Bulldogs are also 16-0 when holding teams to less than 60 points.
Claire’s A Big Shot: Although just a freshman, Claire Freeman has a track record of hitting big shots. Her jumper with 0.6 seconds left was the difference in BU’s 71-70 win at UWM on Jan. 30. In high school last year, Freeman hit a shot with :03 left to win the IHSAA 2A state title for Heritage Christian.
Chloe Solid At The ‘4’: Chloe Hamilton, who has started the 30 games besides senior day this season, has had her best season as a Bulldog. She scored a career-best 16 points in her first career double-double vs. Wright State on Jan. 21. She also had 16 points at Green Bay on Jan. 28 and has 10 double-figure scoring performances. She scored eight points and grabbed eight boards Friday against Detroit.
Sixth Susan: Susan Lester was selected as the league’s sixth player of the year. The senior had 20 points off the bench Friday on 7-for-11 shooting and is averaging 19.0 points in the two tournament games. She has come off the bench in 23 of her 29 games this year and averages 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. She has been solid down the stretch scoring at least eight points in 11 of the last 13 games.
Susan Moving Up: Susan Lester continues to climb several career-record lists at Butler. With 18 points on Wednesday, Lester moved into 10th on Butler’s all-time scoring list. She is now sixth all-time with 767 rebounds and fifth in both 3-pointers made (137) and attempted (407). Lester is also 11th all-time with 153 steals.
Sue And Mel In ‘07 Final: Susan Lester and Melanie Thornton each played in the 2007 championship game as freshmen. Lester started and had three points and two rebounds, shooting just 1-for-6. Thornton had nine points off the bench.
Susan Being A Senior: Susan Lester has made key plays down the stretch in recent games. She made two FTs with two rebounds and a block in the final 1:55 against CSU on Feb. 13. Lester had two putbacks with Butler trailing late to help the Bulldogs win at UDM. On Feb. 20 at WSU, she made two free throws in overtime with Butler down one. Last Thursday at UIC, she made two FTs with :28 left to give Butler a 62-59 lead.
...And Making Her FTs: Susan Lester ranks third in the Horizon League in free throw percentage (.848). The senior, a career .810 shooter at the line, has made 43 of her last 47 foul shots dating back to Jan. 16.
Senior Adieu: Butler recognized its four seniors - three players and a manager - vs. Green Bay on Feb. 27. The two four-year seniors - Melanie Thornton and Susan Lester - have posted a 79-45 record and four winning seasons at BU. Amie Kabara has been a part of teams that are 63-30.
Winning Ways At Butler: Butler’s 23 victories this season is the team’s highest mark since 1997-98. That team went 25-6 under June Olkowski. BU has also clinched its third consecutive 20-win season, the first such stretch since 1980-82. This season is the 13th 20-win season for the Dogs, who have had a winning record five years in a row. The Bulldogs are currently top 50 in the nation in winning percentage (.742).
‘Terra-fic’ At The Point: Much of the credit for Butler’s low turnover numbers and high scoring could go to point guard Terra Burns. The junior had a career-high 10 assists against Detroit on Friday. On Feb. 13 vs. Cleveland State, Burns had 12 points, nine assists and zero turnovers.
Scoring Balance: Butler has six players averaging at least 6.8 points per game as well as five Bulldogs scoring 7.7 a game. Melanie Thornton (15.3) and Brittany Bowen (11.3) lead the team in scoring followed by Susan Lester (8.8), Alyssa Pittman (8.8), Chloe Hamilton (7.7) and Terra Burns (6.8)
Sue One Of Only 3: In the final month of her Butler basketball career, Susan Lester has put her name among Butler’s all-time greats. She currently stands 10th in scoring and 5th in rebounding in school history. Lester is one of three players in BU history with 1,200 points, 700 rebounds and 150 steals in her career. Beth Piepenbrink (1979-83) and Elza Purvlicis (1980-84) are the other two.
Comeback Kids: Several times this season, the Dogs have had to make a late rally to win. Butler was down 66-61 with 4:38 to go before rallying with 11 straight points for a 72-66 win vs. CSU on Feb. 13. Detroit led BU 60-55 with 3:49 left before the Dogs finished the game on a 17-2 run. At WSU, BU trailed by 13 in the second half before winning in OT. UIC led early by eight and led 31-28 at half before Butler rallied to win.
Start Me Up: Butler is 18-2 when Devin Brierly has started this season. She has started the last 16 games (14-2) as well as four non-conference wins. Melanie Thornton is 21-5 as a starter and BU is 12-3 when Claire Freeman starts.
Here’s A Stat To Watch: Both Butler and Cleveland State shot better than 50 percent from 3-point range in the semifinals on Friday night. In fact, the two teams shot identically (10-for-18, .556) from beyond the arc. Whichever team can make the outside consistently will have the best chance to win. The Bulldogs rank sixth in the Horizon League in 3-point shooting (.311) while the Vikings are ninth (.291). Also, Butler is the best team in the league at defending the 3-ball, leading the HL in 3FG percentage defense (.294).
X-Factor: Terra Burns didn’t score much Friday, but she handed out a career-high 10 assists. The junior had 12 points and nine assists against no turnovers against CSU in the teams’ previous meeting on Feb. 13.