February 19, 2008

Butler Hosts Wright State On Thursday

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GAME 25
Wright State (10-13, 7-5 HL) at Butler (16-8, 6-7 HL)
Thursday, Feb. 21 - 7:00 p.m.
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: The Bulldogs return to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday (Feb. 21) when they open a two-game homestand against Wright State beginning at 7:00 p.m. Butler will try to notch it 17th win of the season against the Raiders, which would be the highest single season total for the program since 1998-99 and the most wins during head coach Beth Couture's tenure.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 16-8 overall mark is the program's best record through 24 games since the 1998-99 season (16-8). Butler's 16 victories also match last season's win total and are tied for the most under head coach Beth Couture's five-plus years at the helm.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Raiders 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 tries for its seventh Horizon League win on Thursday when it hosts Wright State. The Bulldogs have been one of the top defensive teams in the conference, ranking second with 61.7 points per game and second with a +3.6 point scoring margin. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with only 15.2 turnovers per game and a 0.94 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks ninth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,261 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the squad this season with a team-best 16.0 points per game while ranking second with 6.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.4 points and a team-high 7.6 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 38 three-pointers. Freshman guards Azjah Bass and Brittany Bowen have stepped up their games in conference play, with Bass averaging 6.3 points and Bowen scoring 7.5. Junior guard Candyce Brown has started in the last eight games and is third on the squad with 2.1 assists. Junior forward Tara Miller is second in Division-I with a 3.21 assists-to-turnovers ratio and paces the team with 3.2 assists per game, while junior guard Candace Jones ranks third on the team in scoring (7.6) and second in assists (3.0). 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. Freshmen Terra Burns and Chloe Hamilton and sophomore Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (81-89) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Raiders: Wright State enters Thursday's game with a 10-13 overall mark and a 7-5 record in league play after falling to Youngstown State, 66-58, on Feb. 16. Prior to that, the Raiders had won five of six contests. WSU is second in the league with a .432 field goal percentage and is fourth with .374 mark from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Sheylani Peddy paces the squad with 15.2 points per game and has a team-best 3.5 assists per contest, while senior forward Whitney Lewis (12.2) and freshman guard LaShawna Thomas (10.6) boast double-figure scoring averages. Lewis also touts a team-high 5.6 rebounds per game and leads the squad with 43 three-pointers. Head coach Bridgett Williams (77-117) is in her seventh season with the Raiders.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Butler's contest against Wright State on Thursday will be the 36th 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 11-7 record against Butler, including an 6-5 mark against Beth Couture.

The Last Time Against Wright State: Azjah Bass netted a career-high 18 points and the Bulldogs rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to take a four-point lead late, but Wright State hit the critical shots it needed down the stretch to hold on for a 70-65 decision over Butler on Jan. 26 at the Nutter Center. The Bulldogs (13-5, 3-4 Horizon League) erupted on the offensive end in the second period, shooting 56 percent from the field, but was unable to get the stops they needed in the final minutes. Susan Lester added 15 points and a team-best seven rebounds, while Lade Akande chipped in 12.

Phoenix First-Half Buries Bulldogs: A 51-point first half by Green Bay all but sealed the game despite a spirited second half by the Bulldogs, as Butler dropped an 84-59 decision to the host Phoenix at the Kress Center on Feb. 16 afternoon. Green Bay shot 52.5 percent from the field (31-for-59) and held a convincing 43-20 edge on rebounds in the game. Brittany Bowen came on strong in the second half, scoring 14 of her team-high 18 points after the break and finishing 7-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range. Lade Akande added 13 points, while Susan Lester tallied eight points and a team-best six boards.

Learning On The Fly: Freshmen guards Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass have come into their own during league play this season, as the two newcomers rank third and fourth on the team in scoring at 7.5 and 6.3 points per game, respectively. The tandem has had some of their most impressive performances of late. In the last seven games, Bowen is averaging 8.9 points per contest, including four double-figure scoring efforts and a career-best 20 points against UIC on Feb. 7, while Bass has averaged 8.0 points per game with three double-digit games and a career-high 18 points at Wright State on Jan. 26.

The First 20: How the Bulldogs play in the first period seems to have quite a bit of determination on how the team fares in a game. Butler is 13-0 this year when heading into the locker room with a lead at the break.

Tracking The Bracket: If the Horizon League Championship was to begin today, the Bulldogs would enter the tournament as the No. 7 seed and would host an opening round game against No. 10 Detroit on March 10. Butler is currently tied for fifth in the standings at 6-7 with Valparaiso, but the Crusaders would earn the sixth seed by virtue of a 77-69 win over the Bulldogs in January. Butler could realistically move up several spots by tournament time, as it is only two games behind both Cleveland State and Milwaukee in a second-place tie.

Holding On To 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 seven of the last nine contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 29th in the country with 15.2 turnovers per game.

...Taking It From Others: Opponents have not had the same amount of luck as the Bulldogs when it comes to maintaining possession. Butler foes have turned over the ball 18.8 times per game while the Bulldogs rank third in the conference with 9.5 steals per game, including double-figure pick totals in each of the last five contests.

...And Making Them Pay: Butler has used its opponents' miscues to its advantage this year, averaging 17.1 points off turnovers per game, including nine games with 20 or more points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have only allowed 13.8 points per game resulting from turnovers.

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 16 victories this season, opponents have managed just 38.0 percent from the field while scoring only 56.9 points per game. In the eight losses, however, Butler's foes have converted 51.0 percent for 71.2 points.

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

National Recognition For Passing: Junior forward Tara Miller has continued to find herself among the best in the country when it comes to handling the ball this season. She is currently second in all of the NCAA Division-I with a 3.21 A/T ratio and is a mere nine-hundredths of a point behind national leader Kristi Cirone of Illinois State (3.30). Miller has been ranked first or second nationally in A/T ratio since Jan. 14, including a 25-day stint from Jan. 14 to Feb. 7 at the top of the NCAA charts. Her 3.2 assists per game lead the team and are the 11th-most in the Horizon League.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 13-point performance against Green Bay on Saturday, the Robinson, Ill., sits in ninth place on Butler's all-time scoring chart with 1,261 points in her career. She is now just 59 points away from tying Sarah Schuetz's eighth-place total of 1,320. Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

Next In Line?: After scoring eight points at Green Bay on Saturday, sophomore Susan Lester brought her career scoring total to 608 points, which is second most among Butler's active players.

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 16.0 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and 11th in the conference with 13.4 points to her credit.

How About Some Perimeter Defense?: Just because the Bulldogs have focused their offense away from the perimeter doesn't mean they are going to allow their opponents to shoot from long range. Butler is second in the conference by allowing just 4.8 treys per game and have held four opponents to two or fewer three-pointers in a game.

Youth Movement: Butler's success this season has been greatly impacted by the quick maturation of its newcomers. This year's rookie class has been thrust into action, with at least one freshman player earning a start in all 24 games and two (Bass and Bowen) starting in each of the past five contests. In fact, the four active freshmen players have been responsible for 24 percent (198-of-825) of the team's scoring in Horizon League play this year.

Block Party: Junior Lade Akande currently leads the Horizon League with 1.5 blocks per game. The Butler center has posted two or more blocks in 12 games this year and a team-high four against Monmouth on Nov. 23.

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 is currently second in the league with 7.6 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on 10 occasions and boasts a team-best seven double-doubles.

Uncommon Non-Conference: The Bulldogs' 10-1 record against non-Horizon League opponents this season was the best mark since the 1990-91 squad finished with a 10-1 slate.

December To Remember: Butler finished the month of December with a perfect 6-0 record this season, the program's first undefeated month since the 1997-98 squad finished the month of February with a 7-0 slate.

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 short two-game homestand on Saturday (Feb. 23) when they welcome Detroit to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a 12:00 noon contest.