Bulldogs Open Horizon League Championship At Cleveland State Wednesday

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GAME 30
Horizon League Championship Quarterfinals
No. 5 Butler (20-9) at No. 4 Cleveland State (16-13)
Wednesday, March 12 - 7:00 p.m.
Wolstein Center - Cleveland, Ohio

The Opening Tip: Fresh off its 20th win of the season, Butler (20-9, 10-8 Horizon) enters the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship as the No. 5 seed when it takes on No. 4 seed Cleveland State (16-13, 10-8) on Wednesday (March 12) beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the Wolstein Center. The two squads each finished at 10-8 in league play and tied for fourth in the regular season standings, but the Vikings earned the No. 4 seed by virtue of a season-series split with Wright State. The Bulldogs are currently riding a four-game winning streak that included a convincing 77-55 decision at CSU on March 1.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 20-9 overall mark is the program's best single-season record since the 1997-98 team finished the year at 25-6. Butler's 20 victories are also the most for a single season during head coach Beth Couture's six years at the helm.

Akande Earns First-Team All-League Honors: After finishing as one of the top scorers and rebounders in the conference during the regular season, junior center Lade Akande earned a spot on the 2007-08 All-Horizon League First Team. It is the first all-league first team mention of her career after earning spots on the all-league second team in her previous two seasons while also collecting an all-newcomer team nod as a freshman.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler continues to be one of the top defensive teams in the Horizon League this season, ranking second with 61.4 points allowed and with a +4.0 point scoring margin. The Bulldogs have also been among the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with only 15.1 turnovers per game and ranking second with a 0.92 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks seventh on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,349 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the squad this season with a team-best 16.2 points per game while ranking second with 6.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 12.6 points and a team-high 7.1 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 47 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones is second on the team in assists (3.0) and third in scoring (7.2), while junior guard Candyce Brown has started in 12 of the last 13 games and is third on the squad with 2.4 assists. Freshman guard Brittany Bowen has been a staple in the line-up in her first season, starting in 26 games and averaging 6.6 points. Junior forward Tara Miller ranks second in all of Division-I with a 3.00 assists-to-turnovers ratio and leads the team with 3.1 assists per game. 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 Azjah Bass, Terra Burns and Chloe Hamilton, as well as sophomore Amie Kabara, add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (85-90) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Vikings: Cleveland State enters Wednesday's game with a 16-13 overall record after locking up the No. 4 seed with a 75-62 win at Loyola. Prior to that, the Vikings had lost six of their previous seven. CSU holds a +1.7 point scoring margin on the year thanks in part to a league-best .805 free throw percentage and a league second-best .406 opponent field goal percentage. Sophomore guard Kailey Klein leads the team and is second in the league with 19.7 points per game, junior forward Dominique Butler boasts 5.8 boards and senior guard Brittany Korth touts 3.8 assists. Head coach Kate Peterson Abiad (44-100) is in her fifth season at Cleveland State.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's game at the Wolstein Center will be the 29th meeting between Butler and CSU in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding an 19-9 advantage in the series that began during the 1994-95 season. The Bulldogs claimed the first eight matches and nine of the first 10 before the Vikings notched victories in seven of the following eight games. Butler had won eight in a row before CSU snapped the streak with a win in January.

The Last Time Against CSU: Susan Lester and Lade Akande combined for 51 points and 26 rebounds and the Bulldogs tied a season-high with 10 three-pointers as Butler cruised to a 77-55 victory over host Cleveland State on March 1. Lester tallied a career-best 29 points and added 13 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the year, and Akande chipped in 22 points and a season-best 13 rebounds for her fourth double-double. The Butler offense fired on all cylinders, hitting a season-high 53.8 percent from the field (28-for-52) while holding the Vikings to just 34.6 percent (18-for-52).

Butler Notches 20th Versus Valpo: The Bulldogs hit 10 three pointers for the second game in a row and used a stifling defensive effort in the final minutes to come back for a 66-58 victory over visiting Valparaiso on Saturday (March 8) for their 20th win of the season. Butler finished with a 40.4 percent effort from the field (21-for-52) while tying its season-high with 10 treys. After shooting 41.4 percent in the opening frame, Valparaiso hit just 30.8 percent (8-for-26) in the second, including an 0-for-6 stretch during the final six minutes. Lade Akande (15), Cassie Freeman (12) and Candyce Brown (11) finished with double-figure scoring totals.

Return Of The Three: Butler's long-lost friend has made its triumphant return in the last two games, as the Bulldogs have drained a season-high 10 against both Cleveland State (March 1) and Valparaiso (March 8). Butler had been averaging only 5.4 treys per game in the previous 27 contests, well below the 8.4 per game that the 2006-07 team yielded. Despite the more mild numbers, the team's perimeter shooting has been crucial to its success this year, with the Bulldogs touting a 16-5 mark when hitting more threes than their opponent.

...And Freeman Made An Impact: Senior forward Cassie Freeman played a huge roll in the Bulldogs' long range effort against Valpo, going 4-for-7 from beyond the arc for all 12 of her points, including three makes late in the second to help Butler pull away for the win.

Stop `Em At 64: Including their 66-58 win over Valparaiso on March 8, the Bulldogs are 17-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

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 20 victories this season, opponents have managed just 38.1 percent from the field while scoring only 57.3 points per game. In the nine losses, however, Butler's foes have converted 51.7 percent for 70.6 points.

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 16-2 this year when heading into the locker room either leading or tied at the break.

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 29 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly six points more in the second period than in the first (35.6 to 29.9). Butler has also averaged only 6.5 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.7 in the first half (-2.2 difference).

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 16 or fewer turnovers in 11 of the last 14 contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 33rd in the country with 15.1 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 18.5 times per game while the Bulldogs rank fourth in the conference with 9.4 steals per game, including double-figure pick totals in eight of the last 10 contests.

...And Making Them Pay: Butler has used its opponents' miscues to its advantage this year, averaging 17.3 points off turnovers per game, including 12 games with 20 or more points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have only allowed 14.0 points per game resulting from turnovers. In fact, 26.4 percent (501-of-1,898) of Butler's points have come off turnovers.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 15-point performance against Valparaiso on Saturday, the Robinson, Ill., moved past Jackie Closser (1,343) into seventh-place with 1,349 points in her career. Next on the list is Sue Morris (1,375) and Beth Piepenbrink (1,378). Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

Have A Good Year: Akande's 15 points performance on March 8 also gives her 471 points this season, the fifth-highest single-season total in Butler history. Her output this year is also one-point better than her 470 points scored during the 2005-06 season, a record for a freshman player. Sue Morris is next on the charts with 517 points scored during the 1984-85 season.

In Elite Company: Lade Akande not only ranks among the top 10 all-time in scoring but she is also fourth on the Butler charts with 110 career blocks. Additionally, with 569 career rebounds, she is 31 boards shy of becoming just the fourth Bulldog player ever with over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career.

Next In Line?: In less than two seasons, sophomore Susan Lester has totalled 653 points in her career, the second most among Butler's active players. She also ranks second in career rebounding with 406.

National Recognition For Passing: Junior forward Tara Miller has found herself among the best in the country when it comes to handling the ball this season. She currently ranks second in all of the NCAA Division-I with a 3.00 A/T ratio and is just four hundredths of a point behind current leader Kristi Cirone of Illinois State (3.04). 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 3.1 assists per game are tops on the team and are 12th in the league.

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 16.2 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and tied for 12th in the conference with 12.6 points to her credit.

Hard To Miss: Lade Akande has not only been one of the most effective scorers in the Horizon League this year, she has also been one of the most efficient shooters in the nation. Akande is 23rd in the Division-I rankings with a .556 field goal percentage (199-for-358).

Candace And Candyce: Different spellings but the same pronunciation -- and the same results. The Bulldogs have gotten quite a few assists from the steady hands of guards Candace Jones and Candyce Brown. Jones, a starter in 18 games this season, is second on the team with 3.0 dishes per game, while Brown, a 12-game starter, ranks third with 2.4. In fact, one or the other has been the team's assists leader in 18 games this year.

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 third in the conference with 7.1 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on 11 occasions and boasts a team-best eight 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.

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: A win by the Bulldogs on Wednesday would send them to the semifinals to take on Detroit, Green Bay or Youngstown State on Friday (March 14).