November 8, 2011

Young Team, Same Mission: Women's Basketball Preview

The mission for Butler women's basketball is the same: win the Horizon League and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Although the mission is the same, the cast of characters is quite different. Head coach Beth Couture, in her 10th year at BU, will have perhaps her youngest team ever.

"We've had young classes with a lot of talent before, but this group will be thrown right in to play a lot of minutes," Couture said. "In the past, we've been able to gradually work kids in. But, this group will have to play."

The Bulldogs have just three seniors and two juniors on the roster. Gone are the team's top three scorers in Brittany Bowen, Chloe Hamilton and Alyssa Pittman. The odd thing is, with all of the turnover in personnel, Couture says team chemistry is one of Butler's strong points.

"I really like this team. The chemistry and the personality. They really enjoy each other," Couture said. "Yet, in a competitive situation, they can get on each other and hold each other accountable. This team has done that without any hesitation, and it's going to help us grow."

 

Young Team, Fifth-Year Point Guard

Terra Burns was a leader on the sideline last season. Burns, in her third season as a starter, was averaging 8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game when she injured her leg early in the season at Notre Dame. She would not come back and except a medical redshirt. Now back for a fifth year, Burns is ready to lead this young team from the point guard position.

"Terra Burns has always been an extension of me on the floor," Couture said. "She knows what I want to say in huddles and what I can't say when they're out on the floor. She knows what we need to help us win and having her out there has a calming affect for our young players."

Burns is a slashing point guard who can get to the basket and score or draw contact. Defensively, she's among the team's best perimeter defenders. During that weekend at Notre Dame last season, she had 12 points and seven assists vs. Wake Forest and had 14 points in the Notre Dame game before she was injured. 

Sophomore Jenna Cobb, who has been starting at the '2' guard spot so far this season, will also see time at the '1'. She played 11.4 minutes a game last year as the team's back-up point guard.

 

Lots Of Options At Shooting Guard

Butler has three young players that will play the Bulldog's share of the minutes at the '2.' Cobb, a combo guard from New Holland, Ohio, started at the shooting guard spot in Butler's exhibition vs. St. Francis on Oct. 30.

"We've got a lot of possibilities at this position," Couture said. " For Jenna, it's her sophomore year and she knows the program and she's comfortable with our system. She's very aggressive and she hustles. And she's been able to knock down some shots."

Another sophomore, Mandy McDivitt, will play major minutes for Butler this season. McDivitt is a long-range shooter who is always working to improve her game. She averaged 10.1 minutes per game last season off the bench and came up with a couple key performances last December. Of her 93 field goal attempts last season, 90 were from beyond the arc.

"Mandy is unique on our team because she is our shooter. We have other kids on the team that can make shots, but that is her strength," Couture said. "She has gotten a lot stronger and her footwork has improved, so she's gotten better on defense. Mandy has also developed some other ways to score to be more complete."

Another young player that figures to be in the mix is freshman Hannah Douglas, who comes to Butler after a standout career at Pendleton Heights High School. Douglas is a heady guard who has great vision and is primed to play significant minutes as a newcomer.

"We knew Hannah was good, obviously, but she's been a surprise for us," Couture said. "She gets all phases of the game and she sees plays happening on the floor. And her main strength is her mid-range game coming off the dribble. I think we're going to see a lot out of Hannah Douglas during her career here."

 

Brierly Leads Young Group Of Small Forwards

Devin Brierly, the second-most experienced player on the team with 59 career starts, will be the team's starting '3' player. Brierly, who made her mark primarily as a defensive player, will take on a leading role this season. She averaged 6.0 points per game last season while shooting .803 at the foul line, but she may need to score more as a senior in 2011-12.

"We've asked Devin to be more aggressive offensively," Couture said. "I don't think she'll need to score 15 more points per game or something like that, but she needs to be a threat while also creating for other people. She's a solid all-around guard and she's good in every area of the game."

Douglas, the lefty perimeter player from Pendleton, will also be used at the '3' position at times as well as another freshman in Jessika Lark.  The Anderson, Ind., native played her senior season with Douglas at Pendleton Heights and has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs leading up to the season.

"Jessika improves every single day," Couture said. "She brings an athletic ability that we haven't had in several years. She can drive it, rebound and she can lock people down defensively. She absorbs everything we say and she's so coachable. Her desire to improve is incredible."

Another '3' is senior Kaley May, a fourth-year player from Avon, Ind. May has appeared in 29 games and Couture says she has become an emotional leader for this young team. 

"Our players can go to Kaley. She can pick up her teammates and she's done a great job," Couture said.

 

Juniors And Freshmen At The '4'

The last two seasons, Butler has found success at the power forward position with Chloe Hamilton. The undersized forward went from little-used sub to All-Horizon League performer. With Hamilton gone, it will be up to juniors Becca Bornhorst and Liz Jennings and freshmen Haley Howard and Lark to fill the position.

Bornhorst was a starter for much of last season, playing out of position at center. She will play some '5' again this season, but she'll play mostly at her natural power forward spot. The 6-1 Bornhorst has battled an endless list of injuries over the years, but she is an effective player when healthy. 

"Becca understands the game so well," Couture said. "Getting her back out there at the '4' this year will be great because she had to play a lot last year with her back to the basket because of injuries. She's a good passer and she can shoot it."

The starter at the '4' spot in the preseason has been Howard, a versatile left-hander from Whiteland, Ind. Howard scored 11 points in the Oct. 30 exhibition game and has shown she can shoot, drive and score inside.

"She has no fear. When that happens as a freshman, and you can play instinctively, that's when you excel," Couture said. "And that's what Haley does. She can score in a bunch of different ways and she works hard on defense." 

Elizabeth Jennings, a 6-1 junior who has played in 28 games, is also a factor at the '4' spot. Though Jennings has played sparingly in two seasons, Couture says her improvement and solid long-range shooting may get her some minutes this season. 

"She's one of our most improved players," the coach said. "She was worked really hard to get stronger and get in shape. She can shoot and she's also a great communicator on the floor."

Lark and another freshman, Amanda Raker, will be mentioned at this position. Lark is a 3-4 combo player and Raker, an athletic 6-1 freshman from Perry Meridian in Indianapolis, is a 4-5 combo.


Healthy Hamm Back At Center

Sarah Hamm was starting to get the hang of playing the post in college basketball when she suffered an ACL tear on Jan. 2 against Valparaiso. The 6-2 Hamm was averaging 7.0 points and was among the Horizon League leaders in blocks when she went down with the knee injury. After a spring and summer of rehab, Hamm is back and looks like she'll be a force for the Bulldogs in her sophomore season. She scored 22 points in the exhibition game against St. Francis.

"I'm so proud of Sarah's effort to get back at this level at this point," Couture said. "Since August, she's worked her tail off and she's matured a lot as a basketball player. She has come to understand what it means to be physical and she'll score on the block at will."

Hamm is the team's best true post player, but she can also shoot from the outside. Couture said Hamm "can shoot 3s but she's really good with the short jumper. Her career is going to be incredible here. We will run our offense through her and expect her to be our leading scorer."

Raker will play minutes as well.  She played 13 minutes in the St. Francis exhibition and figures to be able to help the team in a variety of ways.

"She's not completely an outside player, but she's not completely a back-to-the-basket player," Couture said. "She's very athletic and she can shoot it out to the 3. She needs to improve on the physical aspect of college basketball, but you'll see some good things from her as she gains experience."

Although the Bulldogs lost most of last year's experienced scorers to graduation, this edition of the Dawgs could be as effective but in different ways. Experience will be a weakness early, but that will fade as the season goes on. The energy, effort and chemistry of the 2011-12 Bulldogs are likely to help Couture and Butler post a seventh consecutive winning season.