February 3, 2009

Bulldogs Clash With Wright State Friday Night On ESPNU

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GAME 21
Wright State (10-10, 6-3 Horizon) at Butler (12-8, 7-2 Horizon)
Friday, Feb. 6 - 9:00 p.m. ET
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: Off to one of the best starts to the conference season in school history, Butler returns to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday (Feb. 6) when it opens up the second half of the Horizon League campaign against Wright State beginning at 9:00 p.m. The game, which will be televised nationally on ESPNU, will pit the second-place Bulldogs (12-8, 7-2 HL) against a Raiders team that enters weekend just a game behind Butler in third with a 6-3 mark in league play.

How's That For Starters: Butler's 7-2 league record is the program's best start to the conference season since the 1997-98 campaign and is tied for the sixth-best start through nine games in program history.

Butler Basketball On ESPNU: Butler's game against Wright State will get national attention, as the contest will be aired live on ESPNU. It will be the fourth time in four seasons Butler will appear on the ESPN network. The Bulldogs' appearance in the 2007 Horizon League Championship game against Green Bay was broadcast live on ESPNU, while their regular season games against the Phoenix last spring and during the 2005-06 campaign were both carried on ESPNU.

A Look At The Bulldogs: After battling through a challenging non-conference schedule that featured six teams which advanced to post-season play in 2007-08, the Bulldogs have claimed convincing wins in their seven of their first nine Horizon League contests by holding all but two teams to 50 or fewer points. Strong defense has been the critical element to the team's success this year, as 11 of the Bulldogs' 12 wins have come by holding their opponents to less than 60 points. A trio of post players has been the driving force behind the team during the year, as senior Lade Akande (11.2 points, 5.9 rebounds) and juniors Melanie Thornton (11.0, 8.1) and Susan Lester (9.2, 5.2) pace the team in both points and rebounds. Sophomore Brittany Bowen (9.0 points, 26 three-pointers) has been the most effective perimeter scorer, while senior Candace Jones (5.0, 19) has added to the outside threat off the bench. Sophomore Terra Burns leads the way at the point with 2.4 assists per game, while senior Candyce Brown has been one of the top defensive perimeter players as a starter in the last 10 games.

A Look At The Raiders: Wright State heads into Friday's contest just a game behind the Bulldogs for second-place in the Horizon League standings with a 6-3 conference record and a 10-10 overall mark. The Raiders' strong defense has held opponents to just 56 points per contest - the third-lowest average in the league - and has helped them to a conference best +3.9 rebounding margin. Sophomore guard LaShawna Thomas leads the team with 13.7 points per game and has added 4.9 rebounds per contest, while sophomore guard Shey Peddy is second in scoring (12.1 ppg) and tops in assists (4.1 apg). Sophomore center Ta-myra Davis is the team's top rebounder with 5.0 per contest.

The Series Against WSU: Butler's contest against Wright State on Saturday will be the 37th meeting between the two squads in women's basketball in a series that dates back to the 1982-83 season when the Bulldogs claimed an 81-62 victory in the first head-to-head showdown. After WSU tallied wins in the next two contests, the Bulldogs reeled off wins in 13 of the next 14 match-ups from 1988 to 1999. Since then, the Raiders hold an 12-8 record against Butler, including a 7-6 edge against Beth Couture.

The Last Time Against Wright State: Smothering defense and clutch free throws down the stretch paved the way for the Bulldogs, as Butler battled to a grueling 46-41 victory over host Wright State on Jan. 10 at the Nutter Center. Susan Lester led the way on offense for the second-straight game, finishing with 11 points off the bench, and Terra Burns added a career-best 10 - thanks largely to an 8-for-8 effort from the free throw line - as the Bulldogs picked up their fifth-straight win and eighth in their last 10 games.

Milwaukee Slips Past Butler: A potential game-tying three pointer in the final seconds by Susan Lester would just miss its mark, as host Milwaukee erased a significant second-half Butler lead before staving off a late charge to claim a 63-58 decision at the Klotsche Center on Jan. 31. A 10-point Butler lead a the start of the second period disappeared in a matter of minutes, as Milwaukee rallied on a 23-6 run over a 12-minute span to take a seven-point advantage before holding on down the stretch. Lester finished with a team-high 13 points and six rebounds, while Brittany Bowen added 11 points.

The Best Offense: ...is a great defense. Butler's defense has been crucial to the team's success this season. The Bulldogs rank second in the Horizon League and 33rd in the NCAA in scoring defense (55.7 ppg) as well as third in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (37.8 percent). Butler has held nine foes to 50 or fewer points during the year.

Defensive Longevity: The Bulldog defense might be one of the best in the Horizon League, but for an eight-game stretch at the start of league play, they were one of the best in school history. From Dec. 29 to Jan. 23, Butler held eight consecutive opponents to 50 or fewer points, the longest such streak in school history. Opponents averaged just 45.3 points during the run. The 1978-79 team held the previous mark of seven-straight of allowing 50 or fewer.

Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs are 11-2 this season when they hold their opponent to fewer than 60 points.

Milestone Check: With the Bulldogs' win over Valparaiso on Jan. 23, seventh-year head coach Beth Couture moved to within three victories of her 100th at Butler. Her 97 wins are the third most in school history. Additionally, Couture recorded her 350th collegiate coaching victory in 20 seasons between Presbyterian College (258) and Butler against Youngstown State on Jan. 5.

Breaking Even: Butler's win over Valparaiso gave Beth Couture a 97-97 record in six-plus seasons with the Bulldogs - her first .500 record with the team since beginning her tenure at 1-1 during the 2002-03 campaign. The ensuing defeats at Green Bay and Milwaukee last weekend, however, made the accomplishment a brief one, dropping her back to a .495 winning percentage (97-99). Couture has matched or increased Butler's win total in every season she has been at the helm, going from six in her first year to 20 last season.

You're Number Two: With 1,584 points scored in her career, senior center Lade Akande ranks second on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring list. After entering the season in seventh place, the Robinson, Ill., native steadily climbed the chart before moving into sole possession of second by passing Elza Purvlicis (1,517) with her first bucket against Youngstown State on Jan. 5. First place appears to be quite out of reach, however, as Julie VonDielingen's record of 2,018 points would require Akande to average well over 40 points in the final nine regular season games to break the mark. Akande became just the 19th player in school history to notch 1,000 points in her career early last season and quickly climbed up to seventh by the end of the year. She also became the first non-senior player to reach 1,000 points in her career since Marlow in 1997-98.

...And Making Other Lists: With 690 career rebounds, Lade Akande sits alone in fifth place on the Bulldogs' career rebounding chart. She'll need 84 more to catch Sarah Schuetz in fourth place (774) and a whole lot more to reach record-holder Elza Purvlicis (1,050). Akande is on pace to finish her career ranked in the top-10 in 12 statistical categories, including points, rebounds, blocks, steals and minutes played.

Approaching Rare Figures: Lade Akande enters Friday's game against Wright State just 10 rebounds away from becoming just the second player in school history to record 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 100 blocks. She currently touts 1,584 points, 690 rebounds and 130 blocks. Elza Purvlicis (1981-84) is the other player, boasting 1,517 points, 1,050 boards and 164 blocked shots.

Can You Spare A Minute: With 2,912 minutes played in her career, Akande needs just 36 to enter the Bulldogs' top-10 list for career minutes played. Debbie Benziger (1995-98) currently ranks 10th with 2,948.

1,000 On The Radar: With 851 career points, junior Susan Lester needs to average 16.6 points per game in the final nine regular season contests to become the 20th player in school history with 1,000 career points. She already finds herself on the Bulldogs' career three-pointers-made list, checking in at eighth with 100.

Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler is 10-1 on the year when heading into the locker room with a lead at halftime.

...And Lester Helped With That: Susan Lester's 27 points scored in the first half of the Bulldogs' win against Valparaiso on Jan. 23 was not only eight more than the entire Crusaders' roster scored combined but was also tied for the highest total in a first half in all of Division I this year. Shantia Grace of South Florida scored 27 points in the first period against Coppin State on Nov. 23.

The First 20: If leading at halftime is as important as it seems, the Bulldogs' first-half defense has given them reason to be optimistic. Butler has allowed just 25.6 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and has held six opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including four Horizon League foes.

Bench Dominance: The Butler bench has out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 262 point margin (525 to 263) for an average of 13.1 more points per game (26.3 to 13.2). In fact, the team's leading scorer in 10 of 20 games has come off the bench, while the bench as a whole has accounted for over 41 percent of the team's total offense (525 of 1,268).

Speaking Of Bench Scoring: Susan Lester's 31 points off the bench against Valparaiso on Jan. 23 is tied for the second-highest bench player total in Division I this season. Jessica Breland of North Carolina also scored 31 points off the bench at Oklahoma on Nov. 23.

Odd Yearly Trends: Happy New Year indeed, especially since there's a "9" on the end. In the last five calendar years (including the impressive 7-2 start to 2009), the Bulldogs boast a remarkable 43-23 record (.652) in odd years. Even years have not been as kind to Butler, however, as the Bulldogs finished both 2006 and 2008 with a combined 28-32 record (.467).

Crime Prevention: Opponents have not had much luck picking the pockets of the Bulldogs this year. Butler has averaged just 16.0 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average puts them in second place in the league standings in fewest turnovers per game, while their +4.05 turnover margin is second in the league and 36th in the nation.

Battle-Tested: The Bulldogs will play a total of 10 games during the regular season against teams that advanced to post-season play during the 2007-08 campaign, including Cleveland State, Dayton, Evansville, Green Bay, Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Nebraska and Ohio State. The Bulldogs have won three of the eight meetings so far, topping Evansville (70-52), Miami (86-81, 2OT) and CSU (55-46).

Weekly Honors: Lade Akande and Susan Lester have each earned Player of the Week awards from the Horizon League this season. Akande helped the Bulldogs to wins against Evansville (Dec. 3) and Coastal Carolina (Dec. 6) by averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while posting two double-doubles. Lester, meanwhile, scored a career-high 31 points off the bench in a win against Valparaiso on Jan. 23, hitting 11-of-19 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc despite playing just 24 minutes the entire game.

Downright Offensive: Susan Lester's 31 points against Valpo finished just six shy of the Butler school record and was the school's highest single-game point total since Sarah Bolten matched the Bulldog record with 37 against Bowling Green on Dec. 4, 2001. Lester's 27 first half points were eight more than the entire Valparaiso roster and her 10 first period field goals made were twice that of the Crusaders.

Going Postal: Butler's recent success has been largely dictated by the play of a trio of post players, as senior Lade Akande (11.2 points, 5.9 rebounds) and juniors Melanie Thornton (11.0, 8.1) and Susan Lester (9.2, 5.2) currently ranked as the top three scorers and rebounders on the team.

Quite A Year: Melanie Thornton has already put together a year to remember. Her 220 points, 161 rebounds and 53 steals through 20 games this year have already well surpassed her career totals in her 55 games combined as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 8.1 rebounds per game are tops on the team, while her 11.0 points are second-most.

Highway Robbery: Thornton's 2.7 steals per game rank among the best in the country this year, as her average puts her 39th in all of the NCAA Division I.

Among The League's Best: Thornton's performance this year not only has her ranked at the top of the team's stats but also have her among the best in the Horizon League. She finds herself listed in the league's top-10 in five categories, including a first-place tie in defensive boards and third-place marks in blocks, steals and total rebounds.

Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen has been one of Butler's top offensive players in the last 12 games, leading the team with 11.7 points per contest while hitting a total of 21 three-pointers during that stretch. The current run began with the most impressive single-game performance of her career at Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 13, as she set career-highs with 25 points, eight field goals, five three-pointers, eight rebounds and 39 minutes played. Her 26 threes this year lead the team, while her 1.3 three-pointers made are the ninth-most in the league.

Making Her Point: In just her second season, sophomore guard Terra Burns has stepped up as the Bulldogs' top option at the point in 2008-09. The Peoria, Ill., native has earned a starting spot in 13 games this season - the first of her career - and has been the Butler starter at the one-guard in the last 10 contests. Her 2.4 assists lead the team, while her 5.3 points are fifth on the squad.

Dominating The Boards: Butler has been the top rebounding team during the Horizon League season, pacing the conference with 37.1 rebounds per game and a +6.8 rebounding margin.

...And The Rest Of The Stats: As if the 7-2 league record wasn't indicative enough. The Bulldogs also rank among the best in the league in conference-only stats in points scored (62.9 - 3rd), points allowed (49.2 - 2nd), scoring margin (+13.7 - 2nd), field goal defense (.362 - 2nd), three-point defense (.281 - 2nd) and blocks (3.8 - 2nd).

Marginally Impressive: Butler has had quite a knack for registering big wins this season. In fact, four of the Bulldogs' 12 wins have come by margins of 30 or more points, including a dominant 43-point victory over Christian Brothers that ranks as the 15th-largest margin in school history. The 1982-83 Bulldogs were the last squad to post four or more 30-point wins in a season.

Grand Theft: The Bulldogs' 25 steals against Christian Brothers ranks as a single-game high in the Horizon League this season and is just four behind the league record of 29, set by Notre Dame during the 1990-91 season. The output helped to boost Butler from a league fourth-place average of 9.8 steals per contest to a league-best 11.2 in just one game.

Bulldogs Ink Four For 2009-10: High school seniors Becca Bornhorst (6-1, F, Dublin, Ohio), Claire Freeman (5-9, G, Fishers, Ind.), Dragana Grbic (6-3, C, Terre Haute, Ind.) and Liz Jennings (6-1, F, Anderson, Ind.) each signed National Letters of Intent on the first day of the Early Signing Period. The quartet will attend Butler and play basketball beginning next fall.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Twenty-three of the Bulldogs' games this season will feature free live streaming video online. The Horizon League Network will feature 21 of those contests, including all of Butler's home games and every league road game. Additionally, the Bulldogs' games at Ohio State and Indiana were both streamed live on BigTenNetwork.com.

Next Up: Butler returns to action on Sunday (Feb. 8) when it hosts Detroit beginning at 2:00 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse.