January 11, 2008

Bulldogs Close Road Swing At UIC On Saturday

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GAME 14
Butler (11-2, 1-1 HL) at UIC (4-10, 0-3 HL)
Saturday, Jan. 12 - 5:30 p.m. ET
UIC Pavilion - Chicago, Ill.

The Opening Tip: Butler concludes a four-game road trip on Saturday (Jan. 12) when it takes on UIC beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. CT) at the UIC Pavilion. The Bulldogs (11-2), off to their best start since the 1992-93 season, battle the Flames for their second Horizon League victory of the season.

Quite A Start: Butler's 11-2 record is the program's best start to a season since the 1992-93 squad began at 14-2. Additionally, the Bulldogs' eight-game winning streak, which ended at Valpo on Jan. 5, was the program's longest since the 1997-98 team reeled-off 15 in a row.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Flames can be viewed online via the Horizon League Network. The streaming video is available for free and can be accessed at www.ButlerSports.com by clicking on the "Watch" link on the schedule at the bottom of the front page. Live stats of the game will also be available on Gametracker by clicking the link on the schedule.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler (11-2, 1-1 Horizon League) aims for its second conference victory of the season after getting past Loyola, 61-50, on Thursday (Jan. 10). The Bulldogs have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this year, holding opponents to a league low 59.1 points per game while ranking third in the conference with 67.1 ppg. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, touting a league-best 0.9 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who became the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 points on Dec. 6, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the team this season, leading the squad with 16.0 points per game and ranking second with 6.2 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 14.6 points and a team-best 7.3 boards per contest while adding outside shooting with a team-leading 23 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones continues to be a force on the perimeter, averaging 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.5 assists, while freshman guard Brittany Bowen has chipped in 5.6 points and 3.2 boards per game in her rookie season. Junior forward Tara Miller leads the league with a 3.80 assists-to-turnovers ratio and has added 5.2 points and 2.9 assists per game. Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman have played in all but one contest this season and bring leadership and a strong post presence to the floor. Junior guard Candyce Brown adds strong defensive prowess and a long-range shooting touch on the perimeter, while sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic option in the paint. Rookie posts Chloe Hamilton and Amie Kabara, as well as freshmen guards Azjah Bass and Terra Burns, add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (76-83) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Flames: UIC enters Saturday's contest with a 4-10 overall record and an 0-3 league mark after falling for the first time at home this season to Valparaiso, 72-63, on Thursday (Jan. 10). Defense has been the strong point for the Flames, who lead the Horizon League in field goal defense at .377 and rebounds with 38.9 per game. Sophomore guard Jessica Miller leads the squad with 12.1 points and 3.4 assists per game, while junior center Nikki Grobbecker boasts a team-best 6.6 boards. Sophomore guard Briana Hinkle has averaged 11.2 points and 2.4 assists per contest. Head coach Lisa Ryckbosch (82-79) is in her sixth season at UIC.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Butler and UIC will be meeting for the 38th time in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding a 20-17 advantage in the all-time series. After the Flames claimed wins in five of the first six match-ups of the series, Butler reeled off 14 in a row from 1990 to 2000. Since then, UIC holds a 12-5 record, including a seven-game winning streak that began in 2005 and was snapped in an 88-83 overtime contest on March 9, 2007 in the Horizon League Championship Semifinals.

The Last Time Against UIC: Susan Lester hit a clutch go-ahead three-pointer in overtime and Jackie Closser went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the extra period as Butler hung on for an 88-83 victory over UIC in the Horizon League Championship Semifinals at the Phoenix Sports Center on March 9, 2007. With the win, the Bulldogs advanced to the championship game of the tournament for the first time since the 1997-98 season. UIC gave the Bulldogs a fight to the end, erasing an 18-point first-half deficit and forcing overtime on a Jessie Miller game-tying three-pointer with three seconds on the clock before Lester's trey and Closser's charity stripe heroics gave the Bulldogs the decision. Closser (25), Lester (20) and Lade Akande (20) led the Bulldogs in scoring.

Butler Gets Past Loyola: Susan Lester notched her fourth double-double of the season, Lade Akande finished just one rebound shy of her second and the Bulldogs scrapped their way to a hard-fought 61-50 victory at Loyola on Thursday (Jan. 10) at the Joseph J. Gentile Center. Butler had to hold off several Rambler charges, including a 14-5 second-half run that helped erase a 10-point lead, before the Bulldogs smothered the Loyola offense during the final eight minutes. Lester finished with a game-high 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Akande chipped in 15 points, nine boards and a season-high four picks.

Impact Stats: Three point shooting and taking care of the basketball has been crucial to the Bulldogs' success this season. In fact, Butler is 10-1 this year when scoring more treys and committing fewer turnovers than its opponents.

On Second Thought: Head coach Beth Couture must have some really motivating halftime speeches, because Butler has played some of it's best basketball in the second period this year. In 13 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly five points more in the second period than the first (36.0 to 31.1). Butler has also averaged only 6.4 turnovers in the second period compared with 9.0 in the first half (-2.6 difference), which is a big reason why the Bulldogs lead the league with a 0.9 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. The Robinson, Ill., native moved into 15th place with 1,086 points after passing Angela Cotton (1,080). Next up on the list is Nikki Anderson in 14th place, who scored 1,128 points from 1988-91. Akande became just the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

Offensive Boost: It seems the Bulldogs have found their shooting stroke in the last few games. After averaging just 58.6 points through the first five contests of the year, the Bulldogs have turned up the offense in the last eight by averaging 72.4 points per game, an increase of nearly 14 points per contest. Meanwhile, Butler has allowed its opponents only 3.7 more points per game on average (56.8 to 60.5).

Taking A Stand: A defensive stand, that is. The Bulldogs have been among the best in the Horizon League this season when it comes to keeping opponents off the board, ranking second in the league with only 59.1 points allowed per game and ranking third with a .393 opponent field goal percentage. In fact, only five of the Bulldogs' 13 foes have scored over 60 points while four have tallied 50 or fewer.

Passing With Flying Colors: A big reason why the Bulldogs lead the Horizon League with a 0.9 assists-to-turnovers ratio this season has been due to the play of Tara Miller and Candace Jones. The duo ranks in the Horizon League's top-10 in A/T ratio, with Miller touting a league-best 3.80 and Jones checking in with a seventh-place 1.21.

Eyeing The Top Spot: Making Tara Miller's league-leading 3.80 assists-to-turnovers ratio even more impressive is the fact that her mark is very close to being the best in the country. Despite the fact that her A/T ratio is well ahead of the current national leader's 3.61, Miller does not qualifying for the NCAA rankings because her 2.9 assists per game falls just short of the minimum 3.0 required to make the list.

Keeping Them Off The Boards: The Bulldogs have turned up their defense on the glass in Horizon League play. After allowing 39.2 boards per game during the non-conference season, Butler has held its first two league foes to just 27.5 boards per contest, a difference of nearly 12 per game. The Bulldogs lead the league in rebounding margin at +7.0.

Hitting Their Marks: Lade Akande and Tara Miller have been two off the hottest shooters during the early Horizon League season. Akande is tops in the conference with a .682 field goal percentage (15-for-22), while Miller is tied for the league lead with a perfect 9-for-9 mark from the free throw line.

Centers Of Attention: The Bulldogs have had a history of being among the best teams in the nation in three-point shooting ever since head coach Beth Couture arrived in Indianapolis, including a 2006-07 campaign that saw Butler rank second in the NCAA Division I with 8.4 treys per game. This season, however, the Bulldogs have seen a lot more action from inside the three-point arc, as junior center Lade Akande and sophomore forward Susan Lester have been the team's offensive leaders. Akande currently paces the squad and is third in the league with 16.0 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and sixth in the conference with 14.6 points to her credit.

...But Don't Think The Three Is Out: Just because the Bulldogs feature two of the best post players in the Horizon League doesn't mean they have eliminated their bread-and-butter three-pointer completely. Butler is fourth in the league with 5.8 three pointers made per game and fourth with 235 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 23.

...And How About That Three-Point Defense: Adding to the effect of Butler's three-point attack this year has been its ability to keep their opponents from converting long range shots. The Bulldogs lead the league by holding their foes to a .290 three-point shooting percentage (56-of-193) and are tops in the conference by allowing just 4.3 treys per game. In fact, only two opponents (Evansville and Valparaiso with eight each) have notched more than five in a game, while four opponents have been held to two or fewer.

Block Party: Butler's eight blocked shots against IPFW on Dec. 20 are a Horizon League single-game high this season, while its seven blocks against Evansville on Dec. 6 are tied for the second-best mark. Lade Akande has been the team's leading culprit this year, putting back 1.6 per game for the league's second-best rate.

Hall Of Fame: Former Butler women's basketball player Liz Skinner Spencer was named as a 2008 inductee to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on Jan. 7. Skinner Spencer, who played with the Bulldogs from 1979-82, reigns as the school's all-time steals leader with 419. She also holds three of the top four single-season pick totals and set the single-game thefts record of 11 on two occasions. She was inducted into the Butler Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.

Butler Inks Two For 2008-09: Indiana high school standouts Devin Brierly and Kaley May each signed National Letters of Intent to attend Butler and play basketball for the Bulldogs beginning in the 2008-09 school year. Brierly, a 5-10 senior guard from Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., is a three-time all-conference and all-section team member and a two-time all-region team honoree. May, a 5-11 guard/forward from Avon (Ind.) High School, was twice named to the Hoosier Basketball Magazine All-State Team and was tabbed to the Indiana Junior All-Star Team.

Sticking Around: Head coach Beth Couture signed a five-year contract extension in September to remain at the helm through the 2011-12 season. Couture has brought Butler full circle since taking the helm in 2002, going from a three-win season the year before her arrival to the program's first appearance in the Horizon League Championship game last season.

Next Up: Butler returns to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday, Jan. 17 when they host league-leading Green Bay beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET.