Butler has its final preseason tune-up when it hosts the Hoosier Lady Stars on Wednesday (Nov. 7) beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Admission to the game is free of charge.
CENTERS OF ATTENTION
Butler enters the 2007-08 season ready to take the final step toward a league championship with a corps of dominant post players leading the way ¬-- but that doesn't mean the reign of the three-pointer is over.
Call it a "changing of the guard" if you must. This season, the heart of the Bulldogs' offense will most likely be coming from inside the three-point arc.
Recognized as one of the most dominant long-range shooting teams in the country in recent seasons, the Bulldogs will be turning to their post players to steer their run toward the top of the Horizon League this year.
"We have a lot of great block players who can all really score," head coach Beth Couture said. "We are going to be extremely experienced and deep at the post this year."
Couture, who enters her sixth season at the helm, has turned the course of the Bulldogs a full 180 degrees for the better during her tenure while guiding some of the most prolific three-point scorers in school history along the way.
Butler has set and re-set the single-season school record for three-pointers made in each of the last three seasons, thanks in large part to the play of departed senior guards Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton, who rank 1-2 in the school's career three-point totals.
"The loss of Jackie and Ellen gives us a different look this year," Couture commented. "Our system will be the same, but our looks and our options might change. We may not rely on the three quite as much as in years past, but, if we have the shot, we are going to take it.
"We will have a lot of different looks. Our perimeter players have the ability to score in the paint and our posts are able to put up the three."
After reaching the Horizon League Championship Final last year for the first time since 1998, Butler is once again considered among the favorites to vie for the conference title this season. While the three-pointer remains well entrenched in the fabric of their offensive scheme, this year the play of the posts has taken the lead in the Bulldogs' trek for a championship.
The Post Players
The Bulldogs will return nearly 350 of last year's rebounds between just two players in junior Lade Akande and sophomore Susan Lester, with both posts finishing the year among the top-10 rebounders in the league. The tandem will once again be relied upon to provide dominance in the paint on both sides of the ball.
Akande finished her sophomore season as one of the foremost post players in the league, ranking seventh in the league with 14.1 points per game, eighth with 5.1 rebounds and fourth with 1.1 blocks. The Robinson, Ill. native also finished as the Bulldogs' top scorer in Horizon League play with 16.2 points, while both of her double-doubles came against league foes. She enters her junior campaign just 122 points shy of reaching 1,000 in her career and is on pace to become Butler's first non-senior to eclipse the mark since 1999.
"Lade is really the key to our team's success this season," Couture said. "She has worked incredibly hard at being able to penetrate through the high post and has gained a lot of strength."
Lester stepped in as Akande's compliment in the dominant Butler post tandem last season, ranking third in the league with 6.1 rebounds per game while adding 9.6 points per contest. The Anderson, Ind. native was deadly from all over the floor, providing scoring in the paint while ranking among the league's best from the perimeter with a .372 three-point percentage. The Horizon League All-Newcomer Team member was especially overpowering down the stretch, recording eight of her team-best nine double-doubles in the final 14 games while averaging 13.2 points and 9.2 boards during that run.
"Susan's conference play last season gave her a lot of confidence that will carry on to this year," Couture commented. "She is a definite threat from inside and outside. She has worked hard in the weight room over the summer and gained a lot of core strength."
Senior and second-year team co-captain Cassie Freeman returns as a favorite to start at either small or power forward in 2007-08. The Fishers, Ind. native was one of the top rebounders on the team last season, ranking third with 3.5 boards per contest, and added 5.7 points per game for the sixth-best rate on the squad. She has been one of the top three-point shooting post players in the Horizon League during her career, finishing along with Lester as the only two posts ranked among the top-15 players in the league in three-point percentage last year.
"Cassie has such great leadership qualities," Couture stated. "She is determined to lead the program to success. She's the kind of blue-collar player who is willing to do anything for the team to win."
Fellow senior and co-captain Candace Bain will be one of the top post options off the bench in 2007-08 after seeing action in 23 contests last season. The Clarksville, Ind. native averaged just over six minutes of playing time per game in 2006-07 and finished a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
"Candace is in the best physical shape that she has been in since she joined the team," Couture said. "She really worked hard over the summer and could provide us a big lift in the post."
Second-year forward Melanie Thornton put together an impressive rookie season as the Bulldogs' primary reserve post player in 2006-07. The Carmel, Ind. native finished second on the team with 27 blocked shots and ranked fifth in the league with 0.87 blocks per game. She came off the bench in all 31 of the team's games last season and averaged three rebounds per contest.
"Mel brings a ton of athleticism into our post play," Couture said. "She has become a solid block player and an even stronger shot blocker. She has definitely benefited greatly from having a year of experience under her belt."
Freshman forward/center Jenny Ostrom concluded her prep career at St. Anthony Village (Minn.) High School as the program's all-time scoring leader. The team captain and MVP was a two-time all-state honoree and was named to the all-conference team on three occasions.
"Jenny is a post player with perimeter player qualities," Couture explained. "She can shoot the three or post up off the dribble. She's an effortless rebounder and will become a solid block player with some work."
First-year player Chloe Hamilton could also provide an immediate impact at forward. The Holt, Mich. native earned AAU All-America honors and was a McDonald's All-America nominee in her final year at Holt High School, where she holds the career and single-season scoring records. The team captain her final three seasons, she earned conference MVP honors twice.
"Chloe is a swing player who can play at either the three or the four," Couture explained. "She has solid defensive fundamentals and is a strong three-point shooter, but she also has great post moves and is strong on the block. She is extremely versatile."
Sophomore Amie Kabara will add depth at center after earning academic all-state honors at Waynesfield-Goshen High School. The three-year team captain earned all-conference recognition three seasons and was named to the all-county team once.
"Amy is a strong walk-on post player with a tremendous work ethic," Couture said. "We are really excited about what she can contribute to our post play."
The Perimeter Players
While the offense may not revolve around outside shooting in the same way it has in recent years, the Butler perimeter will hardly be a weak point as it will once again feature savvy returning players with several capable newcomers ready to contribute in their first collegiate seasons.
Junior Candace Jones may be the favorite to step in at the point for Butler this season after playing at both the one and two in her first two years. The Indianapolis native was one of the top rebounding guards on the team in 2006-07 with 3.1 per game while averaging almost 18 minutes. She stepped up big when the Bulldogs needed it most, averaging over eight points and almost four boards in the final nine contests of the year, including three Horizon League Tournament games.
"Candace is a great combo guard who could really help us at the point this year with her experience," Couture remarked. "She had a great end of the year run last season, and she plays exceptionally well in our system. She is a strong player who can go to the hole and rebound and knock down the three."
Junior Tara Miller enters her first full season with the Bulldogs after sitting out the first eight games of 2006-07 due to residency requirements after transferring from Indiana. The guard/forward combo made the most out of the remaining 22 games, starting in all of them and providing a boost in almost every aspect of the game with 7.5 points per game, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Capable of shooting from all over the floor, 31 of her 49 field goals came from beyond the arc.
"Tara sees the floor as well as anyone, and, because of that, she can make passes anywhere on the court," Couture explained. "We have challenged her to become more of a scorer. If she is able to average double-figure scoring for us, we will be a much better team, especially on the perimeter."
Junior Candyce Brown gives the Bulldogs an athletic defensive presence on the perimeter. The Pickerington, Ohio native finished fifth on the team with 23 steals despite averaging around only 17 minutes per game. She also pulled down 2.0 rebounds per game and boasted a 1.1 assists to turnovers ratio.
"Candyce could be the best perimeter defender that we have," Couture said. "She had a great summer and worked really hard in the off-season. She has the ability to finish in the paint and hit the jumper."
The Butler perimeter will also feature a trio of talented newcomers who could see significant playing time early in the year.
Freshman Azjah Bass earned McDonald's All-America honors as a senior at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis and finished her prep career as the all-time scoring leader. The Hoosier Basketball Magazine All-State selection was also named to the Indiana All-Star Team and to the Indianapolis Star Super Team.
"Azjah will be the true point guard on our roster," Couture explained. "She is a scorer who can knock down threes, get in the paint and hit the open man. She is a very good on-ball defender who can help us put more defensive pressure on our opponents."
Brittany Bowen enters her first collegiate season following a decorated prep career at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, where she finished as the school's all-time leader with 311 assists and second with 1,277 points, 240 steals and 76 three-pointers made. The Indiana All-Star Team member was also named The Republic's Female Athlete of the Year as a junior after averaging 19.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
"Brittany is a very physical and strong perimeter player who can get to the hole with her right or left hand," Couture said. "She is really good at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line and is an excellent rebounder."
Freshman Terra Burns brings even more scoring ability to the Bulldogs after finishing with a school-record 1,570 career points while playing at Peoria (Ill.) High School. The all-state second team honoree also finished as the school's all-time leader in assists and steals while earning all-conference and all-area first team recognition.
"Terra is a very confident and skilled ball handler who will help us out at the point," Couture said. "She is exceptional on off-ball screens, makes great decisions in the paint and can knock down the three-ball."
Familiar faces and numerous challenges dot the 2007-08 Butler women's basketball schedule, as the Bulldogs take part in a tournament in Florida, battle four teams that advanced to post-season play last year and hold seven rematches against non-conference foes from last season.
After spending last Thanksgiving in frigid Anchorage, Alaska at the Great Alaska Shoot-out, the Bulldogs will get some sun over the holiday this season, when the team travels to the University of Miami Thanksgiving Tournament in Coral Gables, Fla. Butler will take on first-time foe Monmouth in the opener before playing either Fordham or the host Hurricanes.
The competition will not get easier for the Bulldogs, however, as a quartet of foes have post-season play under their belts from last year. Butler will battle 2007 NCAA Elite Eight qualifier Purdue and reigning league champ Green Bay this season, as well as WNIT participants Ball State and UIC.
The slate will also feature several familiar faces, many of whom were squared up against the Bulldogs last season. Butler will take on seven 2006-07 non-league foes this year, including Ball State, Bradley, Evansville, IPFW, Ohio, Purdue and Tennessee State.
"We play several quality mid-major non-conference teams that will all be fighting for league titles," Couture said.
Couture anticipates yet another grueling Horizon League slate in 2007-08, with the automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament up for grabs.
"The League is going to fall based on whoever shows up every night," Couture continued. "There are a lot of young teams from last year who will be that much more experienced this year. It's going to be another fun and challenging season."