March 3, 2009

Bulldogs Open Season-Ending Road Swing Thursday At Youngstown State

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GAME 28
Butler (17-10, 12-4 Horizon) at Youngstown State (2-25, 0-16 Horizon)
Thursday, March 5 - 7:05 p.m.
Beeghly Center - Youngstown, Ohio

The Opening Tip: The regular season comes to a close this weekend, as Butler opens up a two-game road swing through Northeast Ohio with a stop at Youngstown State on Thursday (March 5) beginning at 7:05 p.m. at the Beeghly Center. The 2008-09 Bulldogs will try to become just the fourth team in program history to record at least 13 wins in Horizon League play while attempting to extend its six-game winning streak in the series against the Penguins.

Record Year: Butler's 12-4 league record is the program's best start to the conference season since 1997-98, while the 12 wins are tied for the fourth-most in school history and are just two shy of the program's highest total of 14 set in 1992-93.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's contest against Youngstown State will feature live streaming video online at the Horizon League Network. The game can be viewed for free by clicking the "Watch on HLN" link on the calendar at www.ButlerSports.com. The contest will also feature live stats through Gametracker, which can be viewed by clicking the Gametracker link on www.ButlerSports.com.

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 12 of their first 16 Horizon League contests by holding their opponents to 50 or fewer points in 10 games. Strong defense has been the critical element to the team's success this year, as 14 of the Bulldogs' 16 wins have come by holding their opponents to less than 60 points. Sophomore guard Brittany Bowen has been the Bulldogs' hottest offensive player of late, leading the team with 10.6 points per game thanks to a team-high 40 three-pointers. A trio of dominant post players have been vital to the team's success, as senior Lade Akande (10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) and juniors Melanie Thornton (10.4, 7.4) and Susan Lester (10.0, 5.8) have been among the team's top scorers and rebounders all season. Sophomore Terra Burns (2.4 assists) and senior Candyce Brown (1.8) are two of the team's best helpers and provide strong perimeter defense. The Butler bench has out-scored their foes' reserves in all but three games and accounted for nearly 40 percent of the squad's offensive output.

A Look At The Penguins: Youngstown State enters Thursday's contest with a 2-25 overall record and a 0-16 mark in Horizon League play. The Penguins have come close to ending its current 17-game losing skid in recent games, including a 68-64 defeat to UIC in which YSU led by seven early in the second and trailed by just two in the final seconds. Senior center Nikita LaFleur leads the team with 8.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest, while senior forward Tiara Scott boasts 8.3 points per contest. Freshman guard Macey Nortey paces the squad with 2.6 assists per game.

The Series Against Youngstown State: Thursday's contest will be the 17th meeting and the eighth contest at the Beeghly Center between Butler and YSU in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding an 12-5 edge in the series that dates back to 2001-02 season when the Penguins first joined the Horizon League. After YSU claimed victories in the first four contests played, Butler has rebounded to win 12 of the last 13 games, including the past six. Butler is 4-3 against the Penguins in games played in Youngstown and 12-3 in six-plus seasons under head coach Beth Couture.

The Last Time Against YSU: Butler shot a season-high 51.7 percent from the field with all but one player scoring in the game, as the Bulldogs opened up as much as a 32-point first-half lead en route to a convincing 84-50 victory over visiting Youngstown State on Jan. 5 evening at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Lade Akande led the way with 13 points, Brittany Bowen added 12 and Candace Jones chipped in eight points and team highs with eight rebounds and five assists as the Bulldogs picked up their sixth win in their last eight contests.

Phoenix Holds Off Butler: Azjah Bass and Susan Lester came off the bench to score a combined 26 points, Brittany Bowen added 12 and the Bulldogs tallied 45 second-half points to cut a 17-point deficit to five, but the effort would fall just short, as visiting Green Bay hung on for a 69-64 decision on Saturday (Feb. 28) afternoon at Hinkle Fieldhouse. After scoring just 19 points on 32 percent shooting in the opening stanza before heading into the break trailing by 12, the Butler offense hit 59 percent for 45 points in the second to turn a potential run-away into a hotly-contested final few minutes before time ran out on the comeback.

Looking Out For No. 2: At 12-4 in league play with two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs can enter the Horizon League Tournament no lower than the No. 3 seed and no higher than the No. 2 seed. Butler is currently tied with Cleveland State (12-4) for second in the league standings, but the Bulldogs hold the advantage for the No. 2 seed because of their 55-46 win over the Vikings back in January. A win over CSU on Saturday (March 7) would assure Butler of the No. 2 spot in the tournament, but that doesn't mean its game against YSU on Thursday is unimportant. A win over the Penguins and a CSU loss to Valparaiso on Thursday would guarantee the Bulldogs at least a tie should they fall to the Vikings and give them a good shot at earning the tie-breaker.

Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen has been Butler's top offensive player in the last 19 games, leading the team with 13.1 points per contest on 50 percent shooting from the field (82-for-164), 45 percent from three-point range (35-for-78) and 93 percent from the free throw line (49-of-53). 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 and eight rebounds. Since then, she has recorded 14 double-figure scoring games - including two with 20 or more points.

The Best Offense: ...is a great defense. Butler's defense has been crucial to the team's success this season. The Bulldogs rank third in the Horizon League and 42nd in the NCAA in scoring defense (56.6 ppg) as well as third in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (38.5 percent).

Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs are 14-2 this season when they hold their opponent to fewer than 60 points.

...But 50 Is Better: Butler is 13-0 on the year and 10-0 in league play when it holds opponents to 50 or fewer points.

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.

Century Mark: The Bulldogs' win over UIC on Feb. 12 gave head coach Beth Couture her 100th victory at Butler. Her 102 wins are the third-most in school history, ranking behind only Linda Mason (124) and June Olkowski (114).

Back In The Black: Not only did Butler's win over UIC give Beth Couture 100 victories in her Bulldog career, but it also boosted her record above .500 for the first time in her six-plus seasons at the helm. She currently boasts a 102-101 mark at Butler. Couture has matched or increased the Bulldogs' win total in each of her previous seasons, going from just six in her first year to 20 last year. She boasts a 360-218 (.623) record in over 19 seasons of coaching between both Butler and Presbyterian College.

You're Number Two: With 1,645 points scored in her career, senior center Lade Akande ranks second on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring list. The Robinson, Ill., native steadily climbed from seventh place at the start of the season to second after passing Elza Purvlicis (1,517) with her first bucket against Youngstown State on Jan. 5. First place is pretty much out of reach, however, as Julie VonDielingen holds the school record of 2,018 points. 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 731 career rebounds, Lade Akande sits alone in fifth place on the Bulldogs' career rebounding chart. She'll need 43 more to catch Sarah Schuetz in fourth place (774) and a whole lot more to reach record-holder Elza Purvlicis (1,050). Akande has a legitimate chance at finishing her career ranked in the top-10 in 11 statistical categories, including scoring average, rebounding average, field goal percentage and minutes played.

In Rare Company: With her 13 rebounds against Detroit on Feb. 8, senior center Lade Akande surpassed 700 rebounds in her career and became just the second player in school history to boast over 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career. Elza Purvlicis (1981-84) is the other player, boasting 1,517 points, 1,050 boards and 164 blocked shots.

1,000 On The Radar: With 938 career points, junior Susan Lester has a chance to become the 20th player in school history with 1,000 career points this season. If Butler advances to the Horizon League Championship game, she would need to average 12.4 points per game to reach the total. She already finds herself on the Bulldogs' career three-pointers-made list, ranking in a tie for seventh with 108.

Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler is 14-1 on the year when leading 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 for the half 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 25.7 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and has held eight opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including six Horizon League foes.

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 12-4 start to 2009), the Bulldogs boast a remarkable 48-25 record (.658) 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).

Bench Dominance: A deep bench has been critical to the Bulldogs' success this year. In fact, the Butler bench has out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 309 point margin (669 to 360) for an average of over 11 more points per game (24.8 to 13.3). In fact, the team's leading scorer in 12 of 27 games has come off the bench, while the bench as a whole has accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team's total offense (669 of 1,728).

Speaking Of Bench Scoring: Susan Lester's 31 points off the bench against Valparaiso on Jan. 23 was 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.

Crime Prevention: Opponents have not had much luck picking the pockets of the Bulldogs this year. Butler has averaged just 15.9 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average puts them at the top of the league standings and 54th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game, while their +3.22 turnover margin is second in the conference and 49th 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).

Post Presence: The Bulldogs are 11-3 on the season and 6-0 in league play when at least two members of their post trio of senior Lade Akande and juniors Susan Lester and Melanie Thornton finish with double-figure point totals.

Taking Advantage Of Charity: Butler is 16-1 on the season when it out-scores its opponents from the free throw line, including a perfect 11-0 mark in league play.

Charitable Efforts: Brittany Bowen paces the Horizon League with a .930 free throw percentage in conference play, hitting 40 of her 43 attempts from the line.

Quite A Year: Melanie Thornton has put together a year to remember. Her 281 points, 201 rebounds and 65 steals through 27 games this year have already well surpassed her career totals in her 55 games combined as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 7.4 rebounds per game are tops on the team, while her 10.4 points per contest are the third most.

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 is listed in the league's top-10 in five categories, including second place in defensive boards and third place marks in blocks and total rebounds.

What Can Brown Do For You?: It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the Bulldogs are an impressive 13-4 this season with senior guard Candyce Brown as a starter. A team co-captain this season, Brown's leadership on the floor has been vital to the success of the team, so much so that she leads the Bulldogs with 28.4 minutes played per league game.

Making Her Point: In just her second season, sophomore 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 19 games this season - the first of her career - and has been the Butler starter at the one-guard in 16 of the last 17 contests. She has averaged a team-high 2.4 assists per game and boasts 7.1 points per game in league contests.

Dominating The League Stats: As if the 12-4 league record wasn't indicative enough. The Bulldogs rank among the top-three in the league in a total of 10 conference-only statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounds and blocks.

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.

So You Want To Be A Coach: Senior guard Tara Miller has been invited to participate in the upcoming seventh annual Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) So You Want To Be A Coach Program to be held in conjunction with the organization's national convention April 3-7 in St. Louis, Mo. She is one of just 54 women's basketball players in the country to be named to the 2009 class. Each participant is selected based on their academics, contributions to women's basketball on and off the court, professional resume and a written recommendation from their head coach.

Marginally Impressive: Butler has had quite a knack for registering big wins this season. In fact, 10 of Butler's 17 wins have come by margins of 15 or more points, while four have been by 30 or more, 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 rank as the second-highest single-game total 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.

Sharp-Shooters: Butler's 55.0 field goal percentage (22-for-40) against Wright State on Feb. 6 was the program's best single-game accuracy in nearly 10 years, when the Bulldogs hit 31-of-50 (62.0 percent) from the field against (coincidentally) the Raiders on Feb. 20, 1999. Butler has hit over 50 percent in just two other games this season, coming at home against Youngstown State and Valparaiso.

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.

Next Up: Butler closes the regular season on the road when it faces host Cleveland State in a potential battle for second place in the Horizon League standings on Saturday (March 7) beginning at 3:00 p.m. at the Wolstein Center.