Bulldogs Open League Slate At Valpo On Saturday

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GAME 12
Butler (10-1) at Valparaiso (5-6)
Saturday, Jan. 5 - 2:35 p.m. ET
Athletics-Recreation Center - Valparaiso, Ind.

The Opening Tip: The Horizon League season kicks off on Saturday (Jan. 5), as Butler (10-1) tries for its ninth win in a row and its best start in 26 years when it takes on Valparaiso (5-6) beginning at 2:35 p.m. ET at the Athletics-Recreation Center in Valparaiso, Ind.

Quite A Start: Butler's 10-1 record is tied with the 1990-91 team for the best start to a season since the 1981-82 squad began at 14-1. The Bulldogs' eight-game winning streak, meanwhile, is the program's longest since the 1997-98 team reeled-off 15-straight from Jan. 10 to March 6, 1998.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Crusaders can be viewed online via the Horizon League Network. The streaming video is available for free and can be accessed at www.ButlerSports.com by clicking on the "Watch" link on the schedule at the bottom of the front page. Live stats of the game will also be available on Gametracker by clicking the link on the schedule.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler (10-1) goes for its ninth-straight win on Saturday after closing out 2007 with a 66-49 victory at Ball State on Dec. 29. The Bulldogs lead the Horizon League in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 58.3 points per game, and are second in scoring at 67.5 per contest. Butler has also been the best in the conference at taking care of the basketball, touting a league-best 1.01 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who became the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 points on Dec. 6, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the team this season, leading the squad with 16.1 points per game and ranking second with 6.2 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 15.1 points and a team-best 7.1 boards per contest while adding outside shooting with a team-leading 20 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones continues to be a force on the perimeter, averaging 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team-high 3.7 assists, while freshman guard Brittany Bowen has chipped in 5.6 points and 3.1 boards per game in her rookie season. Junior forward Tara Miller leads the league with a 3.44 assists-to-turnovers ratio and has added 4.1 points and 2.8 assists per game. Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman bring leadership to the floor and add consistent scoring and rebounding off the bench. Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic presence at the post, while junior guard Candyce Brown brings strong defensive prowess on the perimeter. Rookie posts Chloe Hamilton and Amie Kabara, as well as freshmen guards Azjah Bass and Terra Burns, add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (75-82) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Crusaders: Valparaiso (5-6) hosts the Bulldogs for its first-ever conference game as a member of the Horizon League. The team will be well rested for the Jan. 5 contest after having a 13-day lay-off since claiming a 76-57 victory over Xavier on Dec. 22. Since dropping the first five games of the season, the Crusaders have claimed wins in five of the last six outings. Valpo has been one of the top three-point shooting teams in the league this year, ranking second with 7.3 treys per game and with a .385 three-point percentage. Junior guard Agnieszka Kulaga leads the team with 14.8 points per game, while junior forward Amiee Litka has chipped in 12.8 points, a team-best 4.7 boards and 20 three-pointers. Head coach Keith Freeman (234-158) is in his 14th season with the Crusaders.

Back Again: The Bulldogs will be returning to Valparaiso for the second time this season on Jan. 5. Butler took on Indiana State at the Athletics-Recreation Center in the first game of the Hoosier Classic on Dec. 1, with the Bulldogs claiming an 83-70 victory over the Sycamores.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's contest in Valparaiso will be the 18th meeting between the two teams and the first as league foes, with the Bulldogs holding a dominant 14-3 record in the series which dates back to the 1979-80 campaign. Butler claimed 13 of their wins in the first 14 meetings from 1979 to 1991, with the Crusaders earning their lone victory during the 1983-84 season. Following a 10-year lay-off, the series renewed for the 2000-01 season with the Bulldogs claiming a 67-60 win on a neutral floor in the Hoosier Classic. Valpo has been the victor in the past two meetings, however, including a 61-51 decision in the last contest in 2004-05.

Defensive Stand Halts Ball State: Susan Lester led all scorers with 25 points, including 21 in the second period, and the Bulldogs held Ball State to just four points in the final eight minutes to pull away for a 66-49 victory over the Cardinals on Dec. 29 at the John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State trimmed a 14-point second period deficit to just six at 51-45 with 8:43 to go in the game, but the Bulldogs would clamp down on the defensive end down the stretch, holding the Cardinals to just 2-for-12 shooting from the field in the final minutes. Lester finished with an 8-for-11 clip from the field with three treys and a 6-for-6 mark from the line while pulling down six boards. Lade Akande added 12 points, including 10 in the first half, on 6-for-12 shooting, while Candyce Brown chipped in 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and a career-best seven rebounds.

December To Remember: With its win over Ball State, Butler finished the month of December with a perfect 6-0 record. The last time the Bulldogs went undefeated in any single month was in February of 1998 when Butler went 7-0 to close the regular season. Meanwhile, the last perfect December for the Bulldogs occurred during the 1990-91 campaign when they went 6-0.

Second Half Star: Lester's astounding second half performance against the Cardinals is nothing new to the Bulldogs this season. The 6-1 forward leads the team with an average of 10.8 points in the second period, including a pair of 20+ point efforts in the final 20 minutes (24 vs. Evansville on Dec. 6 and 21 at Ball State on Dec. 29). In fact, in the last four games, Lester has averaged over 16 points during the final period.

...On Second Thought: Head coach Beth Couture must have some really motivating halftime speeches, because Butler has played some of it's best basketball in the second period this year. In 11 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly five points more in the second period than the first (36.2 to 31.3). Butler has also averaged only 6.1 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.8 in the first half (-2.7 difference), which is a big reason why the Bulldogs lead the Horizon League with a 1.01 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to begin her ascent up the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. The Robinson, Ill., native currently stands in 16th with 1,055 points and needs 26 points to move past Angela Cotton (1,080) into 15th. Akande became just the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

That's What I Call Bench Support: The Bulldogs have received some outstanding performances from bench players during their current eight-game winning streak. Junior Candyce Brown had a career-best 11 points against Indiana State on Dec. 1 and had a bench-high 10 points and seven rebounds at Ball State on Dec. 29. Freshman Azjah Bass also made a pair of strong reserve contributions, notching 15 points against Evansville on Dec. 6 and totalling 10 points against IPFW on Dec. 20. Additionally, sophomore Melanie Thornton provided a boost off the bench with a career-high 13 points against Oakland City on Dec. 3.

Offensive Boost: It seems the Bulldogs have found their shooting stroke in the last few games. After averaging just 58.6 points per game through the first five contests of the year, the Bulldogs have turned up the offense in the last six by averaging 74.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Butler has allowed its opponents only 2.7 more points per game on average (56.8 to 59.5) for a 15.3 point scoring edge.

Passing With Flying Colors: A big reason why the Bulldogs lead the Horizon League with a 1.01 assists-to-turnovers ratio this season has been due to the play of Tara Miller and Candace Jones. The duo ranks in the Horizon League's top five in A/T ratio, with Miller touting a league-best 3.44 and Jones checking in a fourth-place tie with a 1.41.

Centers Of Attention: The Bulldogs have had a history of being among the best teams in the nation in three-point shooting ever since head coach Beth Couture arrived in Indianapolis, including a 2006-07 campaign that saw Butler rank second in the NCAA Division I with 8.4 treys per game. This season, however, the Bulldogs have seen a lot more action from inside the three-point arc, as junior center Lade Akande and sophomore forward Susan Lester have been the team's offensive leaders. Akande currently paces the squad and is third in the league with 16.1 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and fifth in the conference with 15.1 points to her credit.

...But Don't Think The Three Is Out: Just because the Bulldogs feature two of the best post players in the Horizon League doesn't mean they have eliminated their bread-and-butter three-pointer completely. Butler is fourth in the league with 6.3 three pointers made per game and third with 204 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 20.

...And How About That Three-Point Defense: Adding to the effect of Butler's three-point attack this year has been its ability to keep their opponents from converting long range shots. The Bulldogs are tops in the league by holding their foes to a .274 three-point shooting percentage (46-of-168) while allowing just 4.2 treys per game, the second-fewest in the league. In fact, only one opponent (Evansville with eight) has notched more than five in a game, while two opponents (Ohio and Bradley) converted only one shot. Accuracy Counts: Butler's three-point attack features two of the most accurate shooters in the Horizon League. Freshman Brittany Bowen leads the league with a .579 three-point percentage (11-for-19), while sophomore Susan Lester ranks 10th with a .392 percentage (20-for-51).

Taking A Stand: A defensive stand, that is. The Bulldogs have been among the best in the Horizon League this season when it comes to keeping opponents off the board, leading the league with only 58.3 points allowed per game and ranking third with a .385 opponent field goal percentage. Butler is also third in the conference with 3.6 blocks per game and 9.0 steals per contest.

Block Party: Butler's eight blocked shots against IPFW on Dec. 20 are a Horizon League single-game high this season, while its seven blocks against Evansville on Dec. 6 are tied for the second-best mark. Lade Akande has been the team's leading culprit this year, putting back 1.6 per game for the league's second-best rate.

Charitable Work: Sophomore Susan Lester and junior Candace Jones have been two of the most reliable free throw shooters in the Horizon League this season. Lester ranks fourth in the conference with a .836 percentage (46-for-55), while Jones checks in at 11th with a .743 percentage (26-for-35). Freshman Azjah Bass has hit 11 of her 13 tries (.846) but falls short of the league minimum for attempts to be ranked.

Getting Her Chance: Junior Candace Jones has been one of the Bulldogs' top reserve guards during the last two seasons, coming off the bench in 49 of her 60 games played while serving as a back-up to two-time all-league player Jackie Closser. The graduation of Closser left Jones to fill the starting spot this year, and the Indianapolis native has answered the call brilliantly, averaging 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team-high 3.7 assists.

Butler Inks Two For 2008-09: Indiana high school standouts Devin Brierly and Kaley May each signed National Letters of Intent to attend Butler and play basketball for the Bulldogs beginning in the 2008-09 school year. Brierly, a 5-10 senior guard from Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., is a three-time all-conference and all-section team member and a two-time all-region team honoree. May, a 5-11 guard/forward from Avon (Ind.) High School, was twice named to the Hoosier Basketball Magazine All-State Team and was tabbed to the Indiana Junior All-Star Team.

Sticking Around: Head coach Beth Couture signed a five-year contract extension in September to remain at the helm through the 2011-12 season. Couture has brought Butler full circle since taking the helm in 2002, going from a three-win season the year before her arrival to the program's first appearance in the Horizon League Championship game last season.

Next Up: Butler opens a two-game Horizon League swing through Chicago on Jan. 10 when it takes on Loyola beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET.