February 12, 2008

Bulldogs Open Wisconsin Swing In Milwaukee On Thursday

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GAME 23
Butler (15-7, 5-6 HL) at Milwaukee (12-10, 7-4 HL)
Thursday, Feb. 14 - 8:00 p.m. ET
Klotsche Center - Milwaukee, Wis.

The Opening Tip: A critical road trip awaits Butler this weekend when it opens up a two-game swing through Wisconsin on Thursday (Feb. 14) against Milwaukee beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET (7:00 p.m. local) in the Klotsche Center. The Bulldogs, who enter the contest with a 15-7 overall record and a 5-6 Horizon League mark, will try to avenge a 65-50 defeat by the Panthers from this January.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 15-7 overall mark is the program's best record through 22 games since the 1997-98 season (18-4). Butler is also only one win away from matching its 16-win total from last season.

Detroit Game Time Set, Valpo Time Changed: The Bulldogs' home game against Detroit on Saturday, Feb. 23, has been set for a noon start following the announcement of the start time for the Butler men's ESPNU BracketBusters game against Drake later that day. Additionally, the Bulldogs' contest versus Valparaiso on March 8, originally slated for a 2:00 start time, has been pushed up to a noon tip.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler looks to rebound from a tough 67-64 loss to Loyola on Feb. 9 when it opens a brief two-game road trip at Milwaukee. The Bulldogs have been one of the top defensive teams in the conference by allowing a league-low 60.1 points per game while ranking fourth with a .410 opponent field goal percentage. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with a 0.93 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks ninth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,226 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the squad this season with a team-best 15.8 points per game while ranking second with 6.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.2 points and a team-high 7.5 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 35 three-pointers. Freshman guard Brittany Bowen has been one of the hottest offensive players of late, averaging 11.0 points in the last four contests, while freshman guard Azjah Bass has averaged 9.4 points in her last five. Junior guard Candyce Brown has started in the last six games and is third on the squad with 2.0 assists. Junior forward Tara Miller leads the NCAA D-1 with a 3.32 assists-to-turnovers ratio and paces the team with 3.3 assists per game, while junior guard Candace Jones ranks third on the team in scoring (7.7) and second in assists (2.9). Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman have been the top post options off the bench, while sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic option in the paint. Freshman Terra Burns and Chloe Hamilton and sophomore Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (80-88) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Panthers: Milwaukee enters Thursday's contest with a 12-10 overall record and a 7-4 mark in league play. After a hot start to the conference slate, with wins in five of their first six games, the Panthers have won only twice in the past five league match-ups. Junior center Traci Edwards has been the driving force behind UWM's success this year, leading the league with 18.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Senior guard Aubri Rote ranks second with 9.4 points, while sophomore guard Jodie McClain paces the squad with 2.3 assists. Head coach Sandy Botham (192-145) is in her 12th season with the Panthers.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Butler and Milwaukee will square off for the 30th time in women's basketball on Thursday, with the Panthers holding a 16-13 edge in the all-time series that dates back to the 1981-82 campaign. UWM also boasts a 9-6 advantage in games played in Milwaukee. Butler claimed wins in the first six match-ups and nine of the first 12 contests of the series before Milwaukee reeled off eight-straight decisions from 2000 to 2004. Since then, the Panthers have won three of the last five, including a 65-50 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse this past January.

The Last Time Against Milwaukee: The stingy defense that had been Butler's trademark throughout the early part of the season was unable to quell a hot-shooting Milwaukee squad, as the Panthers used a big second-half run to pull away for a 65-50 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 19, 2008. Just about every shot seemed to be falling for Milwaukee, as the Panthers shot a staggering 52.3 percent from the field (23-for-44) and 45.5 percent from three-point range (5-of-11). Susan Lester led Butler with a team-high 10 points and nine rebounds, while Cassie Freeman and Candace Bain added eight points each.

Rally Falls Short Against Loyola: Butler rallied from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to take a one point lead with just over two minutes remaining, but visiting Loyola converted four free throws and used a late defensive stand to claim a 67-64 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 9. A go-ahead three-pointer by Azjah Bass capped an 18-4 Butler run, but the Ramblers used several clutch defensive stops and some timely rebounding to hold on in the final minutes. Lade Akande led the Bulldogs with 16 points, while Bass finished with 10.

Tale Of Two Teams: The Bulldogs have played like two different teams at times this season, with one capable of shutting down an opponents' offense and another that struggles on the defensive end. In Butler's 15 victories this season, opponents have managed just 37.3 percent from the field while scoring only 55.8 points per game. In the seven losses, however, Butler's foes have converted 50.8 percent for 69.4 points per game. The drastic disparity has been apparent in the last three games, with the Bulldogs allowing only 48 points in wins over both Youngstown State and UIC before yielding 67 against Loyola in the most recent loss.

Stop `Em At 64: The Bulldogs are 13-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

Learning On The Fly: Freshmen guards Azjah Bass and Brittany Bowen might be in their first collegiate seasons, but they have been playing like seasoned vets of late. In her last five contests, Bass has averaged 9.4 points per game, including three double-figure scoring efforts and a career-best 18 points against Wright State on Jan. 26. Bowen, meanwhile, has scored 11.0 points in her last four, with three double-digit scoring games and a career-best 20 points against UIC on Feb. 7.

Back At The Top: It didn't take long for junior forward Tara Miller to regain her position at the top of the national charts. Thanks to a five assist, one turnover performance against Loyola on Feb. 9, the Ramsey, Ind., native now boasts a 3.32 assists-to-turnovers ratio, the top mark in all of the NCAA Division I. Miller had been tops in the country for 25 straight days beginning on Jan. 14 before dropping down to No. 2 on Friday (Feb. 8) after an uncharacteristic one assist, two turnover contest against UIC on Feb. 7. Her 3.3 assists per game lead the team and are tied for eighth in the Horizon League.

Taking Care Of The Ball: Butler has been notably more adept at handling the basketball in the past few games, as the Bulldogs have yielded less than 15 turnovers in five of the last seven contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 32nd in the country with 15.3 turnovers per game.

Making The Most Of Her Minutes: Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton might only be averaging around six minutes per game, but she certainly makes them productive minutes. The Carmel, Ind., native averages 0.54 points per minute played, which may not sound like much but actually equates to 21.4 points per 40 minutes, the second-best efficiency on the team. In fact, her highest scoring outputs have come with very little time on the floor, including a career-best 13 points in 15 minutes against Oakland City (Dec. 3) and eight points in 11 minutes against Loyola (Feb. 9). Her .500 field goal percentage (19-for-38) is also 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 22 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged 6.1 points more in the second period than in the first (35.6 to 29.5). The difference has been even more significant in league play, with Butler scoring 7.2 more points after the break (35.0 to 27.8). Butler has also averaged only 6.5 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.9 in the first half (-2.4 difference).

The First 20: The Bulldogs may be a second-half team, but the first period seems to have had more impact on how the team fares in a game. Butler is 13-1 this year when heading into the locker room either leading or tied at the break.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 16-point performance against Loyola on Saturday, the Robinson, Ill., native jumped past both Debbie Benziger (1,214) and Liz Skinner (1,224) into ninth place on Butler's all-time scoring chart with 1,226 points in her career. 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 15.8 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and 10th in the conference with 13.2 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 fifth in the league with 5.5 three pointers made per game and third with 396 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 35.

...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 are fourth in the league by holding their foes to a .321 three-point shooting percentage (95-of-296) 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 four have scored more than five.

Cleaning The Glass: Sophomore forward Susan Lester has continued to be one of the best rebounders in the Horizon League this year 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 with 7.5 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on nine occasions and boasts a team-best six double-doubles.

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 be turning for the better in February. Butler is 21-12 during the month in the past five years, including two wins against Youngstown State and UIC this season.

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: Saturday's game features a rematch of the 2007 Horizon League Championship, as the Bulldogs face the Phoenix in Green Bay beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local) at the newly-opened Kress Events Center. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN-U.