January 8, 2008

Bulldogs Face Loyola In Horizon League Battle

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GAME 13
Butler (10-2, 0-1 HL) at Loyola (2-11, 0-2 HL)
Thursday, Jan. 10 - 8:00 p.m. ET
Joseph J. Gentile Center - Chicago, Ill.

The Opening Tip: The Bulldogs continue their four-game road swing in Chicago on Thursday (Jan. 10) when they battle Horizon League foe Loyola beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time (7:00 p.m. Central) at the Joseph J. Gentile Center. Both teams will be vying for their first conference victories of the year.

Quite A Start: Butler's 10-2 record is tied with the 1994-95 team for the best start to a season since the 1992-93 squad began at 14-2. Additionally, the Bulldogs' eight-game winning streak, which ended at Valpo on Jan. 5, was the program's longest since the 1997-98 team reeled-off 15 in a row.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Ramblers 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 (10-2, 0-1 Horizon League) aims for its first conference victory of the season after falling to new league member Valparaiso, 77-69, on Saturday (Jan. 5). The Bulldogs have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this year, holding opponents to just 59.8 points per game, and rank second in the conference in scoring at 67.6 per contest. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, touting a league-best 1.0 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 5.9 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 14.5 points and a team-best 7.1 boards per contest while adding outside shooting with a team-leading 21 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones continues to be a force on the perimeter, averaging 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and a team-high 3.4 assists, while freshman guard Brittany Bowen has chipped in 5.9 points and 3.3 boards per game in her rookie season. Junior forward Tara Miller leads the league with a 3.89 assists-to-turnovers ratio and has added 5.0 points and 2.9 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 (75-83) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Ramblers: Loyola holds a 2-11 overall record and an 0-2 league mark after falling to both Cleveland State and Youngstown State last weekend. The Ramblers have averaged only 58.6 points per game this year despite ranking fifth in the league with a .366 three-point percentage and sixth with draining 5.5 three-pointers per contest. Sophomore guard Maggie McCloskey leads the team with 12.9 points per game thanks in part to a league-leading 3.4 treys, while sophomore forward Elyse VanBogaert boasts 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds. Freshman post Brittany Boeke touts a team-high 6.4 boards. Head coach Shannon Reidy (13-57) is in her third season at Loyola.

The Match-Up At A Glance: The Bulldogs have faced the Ramblers more times in their history than any other opponent, as the two teams will meet for the 51st time on Thursday (Jan. 10). Butler owns a 34-16 all-time record against Loyola in a series that dates back to a 68-58 Bulldog victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse during the 1982-83 season. After the Ramblers claimed 10 of the next 16 contests, Butler reeled off 18 of the next 19, including 14-straight from 1992 to 1998. Loyola took wins in five of seven match-ups from 2001 to 2004, but the Bulldogs have been the victor in the past seven contests, including two during the 2006-07 campaign.

The Last Time Against Loyola: Lade Akande and Susan Lester combined for 49 points and 20 rebounds and the Bulldogs hung on through a fast-paced affair to top host Loyola, 71-67, on Feb. 8, 2007 at the Joseph J. Gentile Center. The two squads scrapped through 17 lead changes, including 12 in a high-octane first half, before the Bulldogs held on in the final eight minutes for the win. Akande led all scorers with 25 points and added seven boards, three blocks and three steals. Lester finished with her fifth double-double of the year, notching a career-high 13 rebounds and tying her career mark with 24 points.

Valpo Out-Shoots Bulldogs: Butler cut a 10-point halftime deficit to just two late in the second period, but host Valparaiso converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final minutes to hold on for a 77-69 decision at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Jan. 5. The Bulldogs rode a late 10-2 run to climb to within 61-59 with 4:39 to play, but the Crusaders held off the Butler rally for the win. Lade Akande led the team with 16 points, while Tara Miller chipped in 15.

A December To Remember: Thanks in part to its Horizon League best eight-game winning streak, 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.

National Recognition: The Bulldogs find themselves ranked among the NCAA's best in four statistical categories this season. Butler's .833 winning percentage is tied for the 29th-best mark in Division I and its 15.1 fouls per game is the 40th lowest. Additionally, the Bulldogs rank 32nd with only 15.3 turnovers per game and are 35th with a 0.96 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande also finds herself listed in the national rankings, placing 39th with a .542 field goal percentage.

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 12 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly six points more in the second period than the first (36.6 to 30.9). Butler has also averaged only 6.3 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.9 in the first half (-2.6 difference), which is a big reason why the Bulldogs lead the league and rank 35th in the NCAA with a 0.96 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

Offensive Boost: It seems the Bulldogs have found their shooting stroke in the last few games. After averaging just 58.6 points through the first five contests of the year, the Bulldogs have turned up the offense in the last seven by averaging 74.0 points per game, an increase of over 15 points per contest. Meanwhile, Butler has allowed its opponents only 5.2 more points per game on average (56.8 to 62.0).

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, ranking second in the league with only 59.8 points allowed per game and ranking third with a .392 opponent field goal percentage. In fact, only five of the Bulldogs' 12 foes have scored over 60 points while three tallied fewer than 50.

Passing With Flying Colors: A big reason why the Bulldogs lead the Horizon League with a 0.96 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 3.89 and Jones checking in with a fourth-place 1.28.

Eyeing The Top Spot: Making Tara Miller's league-leading 3.89 assists-to-turnovers ratio even more impressive is the fact that her mark is very close to being the best in the country. Despite the fact that her A/T ratio is well ahead of the current national leader's 3.61, Miller does not qualifying for the NCAA rankings because her 2.9 assists per game falls just short of the minimum 3.0 required to make the list.

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 seventh in the conference with 14.5 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 6.1 three pointers made per game and second with 223 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 21.

...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 third in the league by holding their foes to a .297 three-point shooting percentage (54-of-182) while allowing just 4.5 treys per game, the second-fewest in the league. In fact, only two opponents (Evansville and Valparaiso with eight each) have notched more than five in a game, while two opponents (Ohio and Bradley) converted only one shot.

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 1,071 points and needs just 10 points to pass Angela Cotton (1,080) for 15th. Akande became just the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

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 1.7 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 sixth in the conference with an .810 percentage (47-for-58), while Jones checks in at 12th with a .743 percentage (26-for-35). Freshman Azjah Bass has hit 13 of her 15 tries (.867) but falls short of the league minimum for attempts to be ranked.

Hall Of Fame: Former Butler women's basketball player Liz Skinner Spencer was named as a 2008 inductee to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on Jan. 7. Skinner Spencer, who played with the Bulldogs from 1979-82, reigns as the school's all-time steals leader with 419. She also holds three of the top four single-season pick totals and set the single-game thefts record of 11 on two occasions. She was inducted into the Butler Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.

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: The Bulldogs close out their four-game road swing on Saturday (Jan. 12) when they take on UIC beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time (4:30 p.m. Central) at the UIC Pavilion.