November 8, 2010

Butler Women's Basketball Ready To Take The Next Step     

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At 211 degrees Fahrenheit, water sits still. By raising the temperature by just one degree - to 212 - water begins to boil. It’s that extra degree that makes the difference. And that is what the 2010-11 Butler women’s basketball team is looking for...that extra degree needed to win a championship.

In each of the past two seasons, the Bulldogs have finished second in the Horizon League with a 14-4 record. During last year’s 23-10 season, Butler dropped a close home game to Green Bay in late February with first place on the line. 

Head coach Beth Couture has mentored the team to three consecutive 20-win seasons and a pair of WNIT appearances. With just one extra degree, BU’s 2010-11 season could turn from warm to boiling hot.

Talent, Experience on the Perimeter

One thing Butler won’t have to worry about is production from the team’s perimeter players. All of the team’s major contributors on the perimeter last season return for 2010-11. Six players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game return, a group that combined to average 36 points per game.

The group is led by athletic senior point guard Terra Burns. The Peoria, Ill., native has been voted team captain for the second straight season and will be the starting point guard for the third year in a row.  Couture says Burns has become more of a leader going in to her senior season.

“Terra is a coach on the floor for us,” Couture said. “She really leads our team vocally and by example.”

Burns, who averaged 6.6 points per game and totaled 139 assists, has refined a couple points to her game. She spent the offseason improving her jumpshot and has worked on being able to score with her left hand. “It’s going to be fun to see how much she’s improved and how far she can carry this team,” Couture added.

Butler has a host of versatile players who can play the point position. Sophomore Claire Freeman and senior Azjah Bass can each play the position as well as the ‘2’ guard spot.

Freeman had a productive freshman season for Butler, starting 15 games and playing 17.2 minutes per contest. The team was 12-3 in games she started. 

“Claire has done a great job of running our system and learning all the guard spots,” Couture said. “You can already tell what a difference a year has made for Claire. She will also play some off-guard. She has improved her shot and she has a greater comfort level on the floor.” 

Bass, a senior from Indianapolis, is a co-captain along with Burns and a valuable team leader. She played in 28 games a year ago and started twice. 

“Azjah has had an outstanding preseason. She is playing relaxed, not over-thinking, and she’s out there playing good basketball,” Couture said. “If she continues to do that, she’ll see a lot of time this season. Her shooting has been incredible and she understands what we want.”

In addition to Freeman and Bass on the wing, the Bulldogs have a lot of weapons due to the team’s versatility. Fifth-year senior Alyssa Pittman and junior Devin Brierly return and will play a lot of minutes.

Pittman averaged 8.8 points per game in her first season at Butler. A transfer from Eastern Michigan, Pittman can be a game-changer with her offensive skills. She is a long-range shooter and can also put the ball on the floor.

“Alyssa has been doing a great job becoming a leader and keeping her teammates positive,” Couture said. “She’s had a tough offseason with some injuries, but as she works back into things, you can really see her offensive skills come out. If she’s hot, she can really turn a game around.”

Brierly started 22 games a year ago and played nearly 20 minutes per contest. Her role will be to guard the opponent’s top perimeter scorer, a role that moved her into the starting lineup a year ago.

“Devin takes pride in being a defensive stopper. That’s what her primary job will be,” Couture said. “She has also been shooting the ball well and scoring driving to the basket. She is developing into a complete player.”

The wild card on the perimeter is senior Brittany Bowen, a second team preseason All-Horizon League player. After three seasons playing the off-guard spot, Bowen will be moving around into different spots to create mismatches. On the perimeter, she’ll be able to post up as well as drive and come off screens for jumpshots.

The Columbus, Ind., native is a proven scorer, closing in on 1,000 career points as she enters her fourth season. She averaged 11.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last year while shooting .392 from 3-point range and .817 at the free throw line.

“Bri’s job on our team is to be our scorer,” Couture said. “She has been an outstanding shooter, she can drive, and we feel like she can post up. Her effort level has been high, and she understands her offense can take us to the next level.”

 Junior Kaley May will provide depth on the perimeter. The Avon, Ind., native has battled injuries, but Couture says she is improving every day as she gets healthy. 

Freshmen Jenna Cobb and Mandy McDivitt are a pair of talented players who figure into the rotation. Cobb is from New Holland, Ohio, and is a tenacious defender and can play multiple guard positions. McDivitt is a deadly long-range shooter with an array of offensive skills. 

“Jenna has quick hands and can cause havoc for our opponents defensively. She can also hit the open shot and she’s an outstanding passer,” Couture said. “Mandy is a deep 3-point shooter and has a really high basketball IQ. She understands our concepts and knows the game.”

Versatility, Youth in the Post

The Bulldogs’ task of replacing graduated seniors Melanie Thornton and Susan Lester is a tough one. Thornton was the Horizon League Player of the Year last season and Lester finished as one of the school’s all-time leaders in scoring and rebounding. 

The leading returnee in the post is senior forward Chloe Hamilton. An athletic player who can shoot and run the floor, Hamilton figures to be a team leader for the second straight season. She averaged 7.4 points and 4.1 boards per game last year.

“Chloe’s athletic ability and effort make her a special player,” Couture said. “She’s improved with her back to the basket and she’s ready to take on a bigger role now that Mel and Susan have graduated.”

Hamilton is projected as the starter at the ‘4’ spot, with a mix of players who can also see action. Bowen may be used at the forward position when Couture chooses to go with a smaller, faster lineup. She can score inside and is a good offensive rebounder. Also, 6-1 sophomore Elizabeth Jennings has worked hard to transform her game from perimeter to post. She got stronger in the offseason, adding muscle to her frame.

“Liz is doing a good job making a position change,” Couture said. “She can really shoot the basketball. As she learns the position and becomes more physical inside, her playing time will increase.”

The inside post position features three players - a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a freshman - who are talented, but will need to gain experience to truly shine. 

Sophomore Becca Bornhorst starts the season at the top of the depth chart after playing in 16 games last season. She was the first post off the bench in the non-conference games last year before suffering a leg injury in December. The 6-1 Bornhorst was playing close to 20 minutes a contest and had three double-digit scoring efforts before missing two months. She is a versatile player, who can handle the ball, pass and shoot from the outside.

“Becca is a unique player because she has guard-like skills. She can grab a rebound and take it coast to coast, and she’s one of our better passers,” Couture said. “She’s improved in the post and just needs some experience and to stay healthy.”

Dragana Grbic is a 6-2 true post player who redshirted last season. The Terre Haute, Ind., native is solid on the block and has a soft touch around the basket. 

“Dragana can consistently score when she gets the ball inside,” Couture said. “As she learns to play out of the paint some, she’ll play more. Against bigger opponents, she can really defend and block shots. She just needs to stay healthy and gain experience.”

Couture’s squad has also added 6-2 freshman Sarah Hamm, a 2010 Indiana All-Star. Hamm is skilled offensively and nimble running the floor and moving block to block.

“Sarah is a good player who gives us the post presence we lost with Mel and Susan graduating,” Couture said. “She wants to learn and improve every day. That’s why I think she’ll make an impact right away for us.”

Schedule Will Be Tough Early

Couture and the Bulldogs have once again put together a challenging non-conference schedule. 

“Our schedule early will really challenge us,” Couture said. “This is what this team needs. It’ll allow us to see where we are every game. We’ll be able to evaluate ourselves better. Our players are excited to play the very good programs we have on our schedule.”

BU will take on many of the top teams in the midwest, including national power Notre Dame in the WBCA Classic over Thanksgiving as well as mid-major power Bowling Green. Additionally, Butler will take on Bradley, Saint Louis, Wake Forest and South Carolina. The game against the Gamecocks takes Couture back to her home state. BU is also playing Coastal Carolina at Myrtle Beach on the same trip. 

The early slate will challenge the Bulldogs and get them ready for the rigorous Horizon League season. NCAA teams Green Bay and Cleveland State highlight the schedule, along with an improved Detroit program. However, every game is a tough one and maintaining focus and consistency in league play is key.