Bulldogs Battle Youngstown State On Saturday

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GAME 20
Youngstown State (10-9, 5-3 HL) at Butler (13-6, 3-5 HL)
Saturday, Feb. 2 - 2:00 p.m.
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: Butler opens the month of February on Saturday (Feb. 2) when it welcomes league foe Youngstown State to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a 2:00 p.m. match. The Bulldogs will try to end a two-game slide against the Penguins, who went 0-3 against Butler last season.

Some Good Numbers: Butler's 13-6 overall mark is the program's best record through 19 games since the 1998-99 season (13-6). The Bulldogs are also way ahead of their pace from last year, as Butler is only three wins shy of its 16-win total from 2006-07.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Penguins 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 plays for its fourth league victory when it hosts the Penguins on Saturday (Feb. 2). The Bulldogs have been one of the best defensive teams in the conference this year, holding opponents to a league low 61.1 points per game while ranking fourth with 65.8 points on offense. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, touting a league-best 0.92 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks 11th on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,176 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the team this season, leading the squad with 15.7 points per game and ranking second with 6.3 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.8 points and a team-best 7.5 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 33 three-pointers. Junior forward Tara Miller leads all of Division I with a 3.50 assists-to-turnovers ratio and has added 4.2 points and 3.3 assists. After coming off the bench in her first 15 games, freshman guard Azjah Bass has started in three of the last four and is fifth on the squad with 5.2 ppg. Freshman guard Brittany Bowen, meanwhile, has earned starting spots in 16 of 19 games and is fourth on the team with 5.7 points. Junior guard Candyce Brown, a starter in the last three games, is the team's top perimeter defender and is third on the squad with 2.0 assists. Junior guard Candace Jones has started in all but one of her games played and is third on the team with 8.0 points and second with 3.2 assists. Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman have played in all but one contest this season and add a strong post presence off the bench. Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic option in the paint, while freshman forward Chloe Hamilton and sophomore center Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (78-87) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Penguins: Youngstown State (10-9, 5-3 HL) enters Saturday's game having won three of its last four, including a convincing 92-79 victory over Valparaiso on Jan. 31. YSU has been one of the league's most physical teams under the basket this season, touting a conference-best 3.7 blocks and ranking second with 37.7 rebounds. The Penguins are led on offense by senior guard Heather Karner, who averages 13.8 points per game, while junior forward Tiara Scott boasts a 12.7 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds. Head coach Tisha Hill (41-90) is in her fifth season at YSU.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's contest will be the 15th meeting and the eighth contest at Hinkle Fieldhouse between Butler and YSU in women's basketball. The Bulldogs hold a 9-5 edge in the series that dates back to 2001-02 season. After the Penguins claimed victories in the first four contests played, Butler has rebounded to win nine of the last 10 games, including the last three.

Too Hot For A Penguin: If there was one team that was unable to figure out the Bulldogs in 2006-07, it was Youngstown State. Not only did Butler claim wins in two regular season games and in a Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal contest, but the Bulldogs out-scored the Penguins by an average of over 18 points during the year. In fact, Butler never trailed for any of the 120 minutes played against YSU.

The Last Time Against YSU: Susan Lester tallied her eighth double-double of the year and three other players finished in double-figures as No. 3 seed Butler continued its dominance of Youngstown State with a 77-60 rout of the No. 6 Penguins in the Horizon League Championship quarterfinals on March 7, 2007 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs were devastating from beyond the arc, going 12-of-25 from three for 48 percent efficiency. Lester finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Jackie Closser (15), Lade Akande (13) and Cassie Freeman (11) posted double-figure scoring totals.

Vikings Outlast Bulldogs: Lade Akande and Susan Lester combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds and the host Bulldogs rallied for a one-point lead with less than a minute to play, but Cleveland State converted seven of eight free throws in the final seconds to hold on for a 65-61 decision on Jan. 31. The two squads battled until the bitter end in a contest that saw 10 ties and 12 lead changes, including 11 in the second period, before the Vikings took advantage of three Butler fouls in the final minute.

A Can't Miss Performance: Freshman guard Brittany Bowen has shown flashes of brilliance this season, and Thursday's game against CSU was one of her brightest. The Columbus, Ind., native finished with a career-best 12 points while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field with a three-pointer and 3-for-3 from the free throw line.

Good Riddance, January: It's safe to say that the Bulldogs have had better months than this past January. After posting a 4-1 record in November and a perfect 6-0 slate in December, Butler finished the month of January with a 3-5 mark. However, if recent history is any indication, things could turn better for the Bulldogs starting on Saturday. Butler is 19-11 during the month of February in the past four years.

Mixing It Up: After starting the same five players through the Bulldogs' first 15 games of the year, Butler head coach Beth Couture has mixed up the line-up in the last four games, with four different lineups taking the floor each time. Freshmen Azjah Bass and Chloe Hamilton each earned their first career starts during that span, while junior Candyce Brown and seniors Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman each got their first starting nods of the season.

Passing With Flying Colors: Thanks to some outstanding passing efforts this season, Butler forward Tara Miller continues to sit at the top of the NCAA Division I standings in assists-to-turnovers ratio. She currently touts 63 assists on the year to just 18 turnovers for an A/T ratio of 3.50. Miller had been the Horizon League's leader in A/T ratio for much of the season, but she initially did not qualify for the national rankings because she lacked the minimum of 3.0 assists per game required by the NCAA. An eight assist performance against UIC on Jan. 12, however, lifted her assists per game average above 3.0 and her A/T ratio to the top of the NCAA charts, where it has remained since Jan. 14.

Making The Most Of Her Minutes: Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton might only play around six minutes per game, but she certainly makes them productive minutes. The Carmel, Ind., native averages 0.51 points per minute played, which may not sound like much but actually equates to 20.5 points per 40 minutes, the second-best efficiency on the team. Her .500 field goal percentage (16-for-32) is also tied for the second-best mark on the squad.

On Second Thought: Head coach Beth Couture must have some really motivating halftime speeches, because Butler has played some of its best basketball in the second period this year. In 19 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged over five points more in the second period than in the first (35.6 to 30.2). The team has been even better in league play, averaging six points more following the break (34.8 to 28.8). Butler has also averaged only 6.6 turnovers in the second period compared with 9.3 in the first half (-2.7 difference), which is a big reason why the Bulldogs lead the league with a 0.92 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

The First 20: The Bulldogs may be a second-half team, but the first period seems to have had a lot of impact on how the team fares in a game. Butler is 11-1 this year when heading into the locker room either leading or tied at the break.

Stop `Em At 64: The Bulldogs are 11-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 21-point performance against Cleveland State on Thursday, the Robinson, Ill., native moved past Martha Kondalski (1,157) into 11th place with 1,176 points in her career. She now sits 39 points shy of passing Debbie Benziger's 10th-place total of 1,214 points. Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

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 15.7 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and tied for seventh in the conference with 13.8 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 5.9 three pointers made per game and third with 350 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 33.

...And How About That Perimeter 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 lead the league by holding their foes to a .313 three-point shooting percentage (82-of-262) and are tops in the conference by allowing just 4.3 treys per game. In fact, four opponents have been held to two or fewer three-pointers in a game (Ohio and Bradley with one, Ball State and Loyola with two), while only three have scored more than five.

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 61.1 points allowed per game. In fact, Butler has held four of its opponents to 50 points or fewer this season.

Cleaning The Glass: Sophomore forward Susan Lester has continued to be one of the best rebounders in the Horizon League this season after finishing third in the league with 6.6 rebounds per game as a freshman last season. The Anderson, Ind., native currently finds herself in third place with 7.5 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on eight occasions and boasts a team-best five double-doubles.

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 get their second look at UIC this season when they host the Flames on Feb. 7 beginning at 7:00 p.m.