April 10, 2009

Butler Concludes Extraordinary Campaign In Post Season

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What A Year: The Butler women's basketball team continued its reign as one of the premier programs in the Horizon League in 2008-09. The Bulldogs notched their second-straight 20-win campaign, tied the school record for most conference wins in a season, posted their highest out-right finish in the league standings in over a decade and advanced to post season play for the first time since 1998. The season featured some huge victories, some dominant individual performances and several milestones along the way.

Welcome To The Post-Season: The 2008-09 Bulldogs' appearance in the WNIT was the program's first trip to post-season play since the 1997-98 campaign. Butler defeated host Duquesne in the first round on a last-second shot, 59-58, before falling to Marquette.

Long Time Coming: Butler's win over Duquesne in the first round of the WNIT marked the program's first post-season victory since the Bulldogs claimed a 95-90 win at Bowling Green in the 1998 WNIT First Round.

20/20 Vision: The Bulldogs' win over Duquesne in the first round of the WNIT was the team's 20th win of the season and gave the program back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time since Butler scored 21 victories in both 1994-95 and 1995-96.

Record Year: Butler's 14-4 Horizon League record in 2008-09 was the program's best conference mark since 1997-98. The 14 wins, meanwhile, were tied for the most in school history with the 1992-93 squad, which went 14-2 under head coach Paulette Stein.

Four Seniors Close Out Careers: The Bulldogs bid adieu to four incredible senior members - Lade Akande, Candyce Brown, Candace Jones and Tara Miller - who, in 440 games played, combined for 3,040 points, 1,495 rebounds and 755 assists in 9,794 minutes of playing time.

Akande Caps Historic Tenure: Center Lade Akande concluded her impressive four-year career with the Bulldogs in 2008-09, but her name will be found in just about every statistical category in the Butler record book. The Robinson, Ill., native is listed in the top-10 in 12 statistics, including the second-most points scored in the history of the program with 1,705. Additionally, she ranks third in both field goals made (1,390) and blocked shots (140), fourth in scoring average (14.2 points per game), fifth in both free throws made (299) and rebounds (757) and sixth in minutes played (3,213). As a junior in 2007-08, she became the first non-senior to record 1,000 career points since Jennifer Marlow in 1997-98 and is only the second player in school history to boast over 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 100 blocked shots in her career.

1,000 On The Radar: With 994 career points, forward Susan Lester needs just six points to become the 20th player in school history with 1,000 in her career.

...But That's Not All: Susan Lester's career scoring total is not the only statistic that will have her listed among the best in program history. She closed out her junior campaign already ranked in the top-10 with 118 three-pointers made (sixth), 338 three-pointers attempted (sixth) and 609 rebounds (10th).

Block Party: Melanie Thornton capped her junior year with 76 career blocks, the sixth-most in school history.

Quite A Year: Melanie Thornton put together a year to remember. Her 308 points, 227 rebounds and 71 steals in 32 games during the year well surpassed her career totals in her 55 games combined as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 7.1 rebounds per game were tops on the team, while her 9.6 points per contest were the fourth most.

Century Mark: The Bulldogs' win over UIC on Feb. 12 gave head coach Beth Couture her 100th victory at Butler. Her 105 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 ended the year with a 105-103 mark at Butler. Couture has matched or increased the Bulldogs' win total in each of her seasons, going from just six in her first year to 20 in each of the past two seasons. She boasts a 363-220 (.623) record in 20 seasons of coaching between both Butler and Presbyterian College.

All Alone At No. 2: The Bulldogs finished the regular season alone in second place with a 14-4 conference record. The second-place standing was the team's best out-right finish since the 1997-98 team finished as the league's regular season champion. The 2006-07 squad ended up tied with UIC for the second spot.

Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs were 17-4 during the year when they held their opponents to fewer than 60 points.

...But 50 Is Better: Butler finished 14-0 on the year and 11-0 in league play when it held opponents to 50 or fewer points.

The Best Offense: ...is a great defense. Butler's defense was crucial to the team's success in 2008-09. The Bulldogs ranked second in the Horizon League and 35th in the NCAA in scoring defense (56.2 ppg) as well as second in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (38.7 percent).

Defensive Longevity: The Bulldog defense might have been one of the best in the Horizon League, but for an eight-game stretch at the start of league play, it was 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.

Defensive Recognition: After concluding a break-out regular season in which she ranked in among the best in the Horizon League in steals, blocks and defensive rebounds, forward Melanie Thornton was named to the conference's All-Defensive Team. The Carmel, Ind., native wrapped up a 2008-09 campaign in which she ranked second in the league with 5.2 defensive rebounds per game and with 1.4 blocked shots per contest and seventh with 2.2 steals per game. Her 7.1 rebounds, 71 steals and 44 blocks led the squad, while her 9.6 points were the fourth-most.

Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen put together quite a run on offense in the final 24 games of the season, averaging a team-high 12.9 points per contest on 48.1 percent shooting from the field (103-for-214), 44.9 percent from three-point range (44-for-98) and 86.8 percent from the free throw line (59-of-68). The trek 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. In the 23 games that followed, she went on to record 18 double-figure scoring games - including two with 20 or more points.

Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler was 16-1 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 at the time. Shantia Grace of South Florida had scored 27 points in the first period against Coppin State on Nov. 23.

The First 20: If leading at halftime was as important as it seemed during the year, the Bulldogs' first-half defense gave them reason to be optimistic with each contest. Butler allowed just 25.6 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and held nine opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including seven Horizon League foes.

Bench Dominance: A deep bench was critical to the Bulldogs' success during the year. The Butler bench out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 311 point margin (756 to 445) for an average of 9.7 more points per game (23.6 to 13.9). In fact, Butler's bench out-scored its opponents' in all but five games in 2008-09, while the Bulldogs' leading scorer in 13 of 32 games was a reserve.

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. Lade Akande came close to the mark at Duquesne on March 19, scoring 26 in a reserve role.

Crime Prevention: Opponents did not have much luck picking the pockets of the Bulldogs in 2008-09. Butler averaged just 15.8 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average put them at the top of the league standings and 56th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game, while their +3.6 turnover margin was second in the league and 38th in the nation.

Taking Advantage Of Charity: Butler was 18-1 on the season and a perfect 13-0 in league play when it equaled or topped its opponent's output from the free throw line.

Charitable Efforts: Brittany Bowen finished as the Horizon League leader with a .898 free throw percentage in conference play, hitting 44 of her 49 attempts from the line. In all games, she posted a team-best .829 (63-for-76) mark from the line.

Odd Yearly Trends: Happy New Year indeed, especially since there was a "9" on the end. In the last five calendar years (including the impressive 15-6 start to 2009), the Bulldogs boast a remarkable 51-27 record (.654) 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).

Post Presence: The Bulldogs were 13-4 on the season and 7-0 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.

Good Odds: Lade Akande registered double-figure point totals in 88 of her 120 games played at Butler - an impressive 73 percent of her career games.

What Can Brown Do For You?: It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the Bulldogs were an impressive 16-6 in 2008-09 with senior guard Candyce Brown as a starter. A team co-captain during the year, Brown's leadership on the floor was vital to the success of the team, so much so that she finished second on the team with 24.6 minutes played and was the Butler leader in minutes during the Horizon League season with 28.9 per contest.

Making Her Point: In just her second season, sophomore Terra Burns stepped up as the Bulldogs' top option at point guard in 2008-09. The Peoria, Ill., native earned a starting spot in 24 games during the year - the first of her career - and was the Butler starter at the one-guard in 21 of the final 22 contests. She averaged a team-high 2.6 assists per game and boasted 5.9 points per contest.

Battle-Tested: The Bulldogs played 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 won four of the meetings during the regular slate, topping CSU twice (55-46 and 68-59) as well as Evansville (70-52) and Miami (86-81, 2OT).

So You Want To Be A Coach: Senior guard Tara Miller was invited to participate in the 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 was one of just 54 women's basketball players in the country to be named to the 2009 class. Each participant was 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.

Dominating The League Stats: As if the 14-4 league record wasn't indicative enough. The Bulldogs ranked 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.

Marginally Impressive: Butler had quite a knack for registering big wins during the 2008-09 season. In fact, 11 of Butler's 20 wins were by margins of 15 or more points, while four were 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.

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.

Grand Theft: The Bulldogs' 25 steals against Christian Brothers ranked as the second-highest single-game total in the Horizon League in 2008-09 and was 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 hit over 50 percent in just two other games during the year, with both 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.

Bulldogs Rally To Top Duquesne: A lay-up by Candace Jones in the finals seconds of play proved to be the difference, as the Bulldogs overcame as much as an 11-point deficit to score a 59-58 victory over host Duquesne in the first round of the WNIT on Thursday (March 19) evening. Trailing by one with 14 seconds left in the seconds half, Jones took a pass from Tara Miller on the left side of the floor and drove from the timeline through a barrage of Duquesne defenders and banked in a soft lay-up to give the Bulldogs a one-point edge with 2.2 seconds on the clock. Duquesne burned its final timeout to draw up the last play of the game, but the final three-point attempt at the buzzer sailed wide and the celebration was on for Butler. Lade Akande led all scorers with 26 points and 12 rebounds, Brittany Bowen picked up her first collegiate double-double with 10 points and 10 boards and Susan Lester added 11 points as the Bulldogs picked up their 20th win of the season.