Butler Keeps Climbing Towards The Top In 2006-07

April 9, 2007

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What A Year: The 2006-07 season was arguably the finest since head coach Beth Couture took over the reigns at the start of the 2002-03 campaign. The Bulldogs finished the year with 16 wins, the most in eight years, and a second place finish in the Horizon League standings, the highest mark since the 1997-98 season. Butler continued its success in post-season play, reaching the Horizon League Tournament Championship game for the first time since 1998.

Championship Bid Falls Short: No. 22 UW-Green Bay took a page from the Butler playbook in the Horizon League Championship game on March 11, using an onslaught of three-pointers in denying the Bulldogs the league title in a 91-64 decision at the Phoenix Sports Center. After using the three-pointer to drive their offense in defeating UIC in the tournament semifinals on March 9, Butler found itself at the receiving end against the Phoenix, as UW-Green Bay hit 15-of-29 from long range in the game to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Run Through The Tourney: It didn't come easily, but the Bulldogs run to the Horizon League Championship game was a memorable to say the least. Butler opened the tournament on March 7 at home against Youngstown State, against whom the Bulldogs had swept in during the regular season. They wasted no time in disposing of the Penguins, as Susan Lester tallied her eighth double-double of the year and three other players finished in double-figures in a 77-60 rout of YSU. The Bulldogs then travelled to Green Bay to meet with UIC, which claimed both regular season contests from Butler. The history mattered little, however, as the Bulldogs built up as much as an 18-point advantage before the Flames rallied in the second half to send the game into overtime. There, Jackie Closser scored 11 of the Bulldogs' 17 points of the extra period, including 8-of-8 from the free throw line, to hold off UIC for an 88-83 win.

Closser Goes Out With A Bang: With her dominant performance in the Horizon League Championship, Jackie Closser was named to the league's All-Tournament Team. Closser averaged 21 points in the three tournament games, shooting 46.2 percent (18-of-39) from the field and notching 14 three-pointers, including a school-record-tying seven against UW-Green Bay in the title game. She also finished with a perfect 12-of-12 mark from the free throw line against UIC.

Streaking To The Finish: The only thing that managed to stop Jackie Closser's remarkable three-point streak was the end of the Bulldogs' season. Since netting two triples in the 2005-06 season opener at Purdue, Closser nailed at least one trey in every contest for 59 consecutive games and finished just one game shy of the NCAA Division I record of 60, set by Kim MacMillan of Long Island from Jan. 29, 2000 to Jan. 21, 2002.

An Upward Trend: The Bulldogs have steadily improved under the tutelage of head coach Beth Couture, and this season has been the finest yet. The 16 wins gives the Bulldogs their highest single-season total since the 1998-99 squad finished at 17-11. Additionally, Butler's 11 wins in Horizon League play are the most during Couture's tenure, while the second-place finish is the highest final standing since the 1997-98 season.

Triple City, USA: The Bulldogs have been notorious for shooting the three pointer ever since head coach Beth Couture took over the reigns five years ago, but this season has been the most impressive to date. Butler finished the season averaging 8.4 three-pointers per game, the highest mark in the Horizon League and the second-highest in the nation. In fact, the Bulldogs finished just five-hundredths (0.05) of a three-pointer per game behind Santa Clara for the national lead.

The Most Ever: The Bulldogs' 260 three-pointers made during the year rank as the most in school history, easily topping the previous mark of 223 set last season. Additionally, Butler's 15 makes at UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 22 is the highest single game total in Butler history.

National Attention: Making three-pointers was not the only reason the nation took notice of the Bulldogs in 2006-07. Butler also ranked among the NCAA's best in three-point percentage, hitting 36.6 percent from beyond the arc for the 19th-best rate in the country. Butler was also one of the best at handling the basketball, ranking in a 46th-place tie with 15.2 assists per game and placing 35th with a mere 14.9 turnovers per contest. Meanwhile, Jackie Closser found herself mentioned among the nation's top players, ranking in a tie for ninth with 2.7 three pointers per game, 39th with a 37.4 percent mark from beyond the arc and 26th with an 85.2 percent rate from the free throw line.

1,000 Reason To Celebrate: Senior captains Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton both became members of the Bulldogs' 1,000 point club during the year. Closser became the 17th player in Butler history to eclipse the mark, notching her 1,000th point on a three-pointer against No. 16 Louisville on Dec. 18, while Hamilton became the 18th player with 1,000 just 10 days later on a lay-up against Cleveland State on Dec. 28.

Closser Makes Her Mark: When the Butler record book is updated for next season, it will be littered with Jackie Closser's name. The Alexandria, Ind. native set or tied six school records during the 2006-07 campaign, including all three three-point records. Twice during the year, she tied the single game three-point mark by hitting seven against both Wright State (Feb. 3) and UW-Green Bay (March 11). She also broke her own single season school mark of 84 three-pointers made by hitting 85 during the year and improved on her already nearly unbreakable career mark by finishing with 271 treys made. Additionally, she ended the year with the most minutes played in a single season (1,148) and in a career (3,751) while posting the best career-mark from the free throw line (.841, 280-of-333). She wrapped up her career ranked in the top-10 all-time charts in 11 categories.

Hamilton Finishes Among The Best: Ellen Hamilton closed out her illustrious career as one of the deadliest three-point shooters in school history. The Greenfield, Ind. native ranks second all-time with 227 three-pointers made and with 571 attempts while placing fourth with a .398 percentage from behind the arc. She also finished with the sixth-most minutes played (3,164) and the eighth-best mark from the free-throw line (.800, 180-of-225).

All-League Honors: Three Bulldogs earned All-Horizon League honors in 2006-07. Senior guard Jackie Closser earned her second-career all-league first team mention, while sophomore center Lade Akande was named to the all-league second team for the second time in her career. Meanwhile, freshman forward Susan Lester was tabbed to the league's all-newcomer team.

Big Games Make One Week: The Bulldogs earned three Horizon League Player of the Week Honors during the year. Freshman Susan Lester was tabbed with the recognition on two occasions, earning the award on Jan. 29 after averaging a double-double against UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee and again on March 5 after posting two more double-doubles against Youngstown State and Cleveland State. Jackie Closser was also recognized on Feb. 5 after scoring a career-high 28 points against Wright State.

Double Trouble: Freshman Susan Lester was nearly unstoppable at times in 2006-07, especially down the stretch when the Bulldogs made their run to the league championship game. In Butler's final 11 contests of the regular season and three games in the league tournament, she averaged 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds while notching eight double-doubles. Her nine double-doubles during the year were the second-most in the Horizon League and were the most for a freshman. She led the Bulldogs in rebounding 17 times, while her 6.5 rebounds per game paced the squad and were the third most in the league.

Getting There In A Hurry: Not too many Butler players have had better starts to their careers than Lade Akande. The Robinson, Ill. native was dominant on offense in her first season with the team in 2005-06, finishing with 470 points for the highest total in school history by a freshman. She continued that trend as one of the Bulldogs' top scorers this year, tallying 408 points for 878 in her career. With just 122 points to 1,000, Akande will likely become the first Butler player since Jennifer Marlow (1998-99) to reach the milestone before her senior season.

Tara Miller Effect: It might have been pure coincidence, but things turned for the better when Tara Miller became eligible to play this year. Since dropping a closely-contested battle to No. 16 Louisville in Miller's first game, Butler won 14 of its final 21 games and averaged over 14 points more per game (58.7 to 72.8). Meanwhile, Butler went from being out-scored by nearly 15 points per game to holding a 3.7 point edge on its foes. Miller provided a spark in just about every aspect of the game during that time, averaging 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Posting Up From Downtown: The Bulldogs' were clearly the champion when it came to hitting three pointers this season, so much so that even the post players got in on the act. Junior Cassie Freeman and freshman Susan Lester each provided Butler with significant offense from the perimeter, with Freeman hitting 35.2 percent (31-of-88) from downtown and Lester scoring 37.2 percent (32-of-86) from distance. In fact, the two Bulldogs were the only post players ranked among the Horizon League's top-15 in three-point percentage during the year.

Akande Brings It From The Paint: It wasn't all about shooting from long range for the Bulldogs, as sophomore Lade Akande could attest. The 6-1 center ranked second on the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game despite not taking a single shot from beyond the arc. In fact, the Robinson, Ill. native has yet to shoot for three in 57 career games. She finished her sophomore campaign with a team-best .500 field goal percentage.

...And She Did It In Conference Play: Akande stepped up her game even further in Horizon League play, finishing with a team-leading 16.2 points per game, the fifth-highest total in the league, and a .545 percentage from the field, also fifth-best in the conference. Additionally, both of her double-doubles came against league foes.

Time Is On Your Side: Jackie Closser wouldn't have had it any other way. Needing just 11 minutes against Cleveland State on Senior Day to become the Bulldogs' all-time leader in minutes played, Closser went all out against the Vikings, playing the full 40 minutes for the seventh time in 2006-07 and handily claiming the all-time mark. She finished the year as the Horizon League leader with 37.0 minutes played per game and with a school single-season record 1,148 minutes.

Taking Advantage of Charity: It's not as if Jackie Closser asked to go to the free throw line, but when she did, she made opponents pay. She finished the 2006-07 campaign second in the league and 26th in the nation in free-throw efficiency, netting 104 of her 122 attempts for a .852 average. Closser missed only nine shots in Horizon League play (62-of-71) and was second in the conference with an .873 percentage. Her mark included a pair of 12-for-12 performances, coming at Detroit on Jan. 18 and against UIC on March 9.

Crime Prevention: Opponents had a rather difficult time attempting to pick the pockets of the Butler players in 2006-07. The Bulldogs yielded just 14.9 turnovers per game this year, the second-fewest in the Horizon League and the 35th-fewest in the nation. Butler also ranked second in the league in assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.0. The figure was even more impressive during the final stretch of the season, as the Bulldogs allowed no more than 14 miscues in 11 of their final 16 games. Additionally, their six turnovers against Air Force on Nov. 22 was the lowest single-game total in the Horizon League this season.

Can I Lend You A Hand?: Butler had a ton of assistance with its shooting against UW-Milwaukee on Jan. 27, as every one of the Bulldogs' season-high 31 field goals was assisted on. The 31 assists was the Horizon League's single-game standard for the season, while the 31-on-31 percentage was just one off of the NCAA Division-I single-game record of 32 assists on 32 makes, set by St. Louis in 1986.

Raining Threes: The Bulldogs' effort from the three-point arc against UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 22 not only broke the Butler single-game record but was one of the top performances in the nation this year. The 15 makes was the most in the Horizon League this season and was one shy of the league record of 16, set by UW-Green Bay on three occasions. It was also tied with six other teams for the single-game season-high in all of the NCAA Division I.

Too Hot For A Penguin: If there was one team in the Horizon League that was unable to figure out the Bulldogs in 2006-07, it was the Youngstown State Penguins. Not only did Butler claim wins in two regular season games and the Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal game, but the Bulldogs out-scored the Penguins by an average of over 18 points during the year. In fact, Butler never trailed for any of the 120 minutes played against YSU.

...And Panthers Don't Care For Them Either: Butler earned some revenge against UW-Milwaukee, the team that knocked the Bulldogs out of the Horizon League Tournament in 2006, this past year. In their first meeting of the year, the Bulldogs put on an assists clinic, coming one assist shy of tying an NCAA record by assisting on 31-of-31 field goals in the game, while Butler received outstanding performances from Susan Lester (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Lade Akande (25 points, nine rebounds) to upend the Panthers, 81-74. Less than a month later in Milwaukee, Butler put on another show - this time from beyond the arc - as the Bulldogs nailed a school-record 15 three pointers in ousting the Panthers, 74-59, in front of the UWM home crowd.

Flames Finally Extinguished:
If the Bulldogs were going to advance to the Horizon League Championship game, it only seemed fitting that they would have to get past UIC. Butler entered its March 9 semifinal contest against the Flames having lost seven-straight to the Chicago school dating back to the 2003-04 season, including both regular season contests in 2006-07. The streak came to a exhilarating end that night, as the Bulldogs claimed an 88-83 overtime victory to advance to the Horizon League Championship game. It didn't come easily, however, despite a lighting-fast start by Butler that saw it go ahead by as much as 18 before taking a 14-point lead into the locker room at halftime. The Flames came roaring back in the second period, tying the game on a last-second three-pointer to force overtime, but a clutch go-ahead trey from Susan Lester and 11 overtime points from Jackie Closser propelled Butler to the win.