January 20, 2009

Streaking Bulldogs Host Valparaiso On Friday

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GAME 18
Valparaiso (9-7, 4-2 Horizon) at Butler (11-6, 6-0 Horizon)
Friday, Jan. 23 - 7:00 p.m.
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: One of the best defenses in the Horizon League clashes with the top offensive squad in the conference on Friday (Jan. 23), when the Bulldogs welcome in-state rival Valparaiso to town for a 7:00 p.m. contest in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Riding a seven-game winning streak and boasting a perfect 6-0 mark in league play, Butler will pit its smothering defense that has held league opponents to just over 46 points per game against a Crusader team that scores a league-high 66 points per contest.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's contest against Valparaiso will feature live streaming video online at the Horizon League Network. Mark Minner and Carl Heck will have the call for the game, which can be viewed for free by clicking the "Watch on HLN" link on the calendar at www.ButlerSports.com. The contest will also feature live stats through Gametracker, which can be viewed by clicking the Gametracker link on www.ButlerSports.com.

How's That For Starters: Butler's 6-0 league record is the second-best start to the league season in program history, trailing only the 1992-93 team (9-0).

A Look At The Bulldogs: After battling through a challenging non-conference schedule that featured six teams which advanced to post-season play in 2007-08, the Bulldogs have claimed convincing wins in their first six Horizon League contests, holding Cleveland State (46 points), Youngstown State (50), Detroit (48), Wright State (41), Loyola (45) and UIC (48) to 50 or fewer points. Strong defense has been the critical element to the team's success this year, as 10 of the Bulldogs' 11 wins have come by holding their opponents to less than 60 points. A duo of post players has been the driving force behind the team this season, as senior Lade Akande (12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds) and junior Melanie Thornton (11.9, 8.4) pace the team in both points and rebounds. Sophomore Brittany Bowen (8.7 points, 22 three-pointers) has been the most effective perimeter scorer, while junior Susan Lester (7.4, 12), senior Candace Jones (4.8, 16) and freshman Devin Brierly (4.1, 15) have added to the long-range offense. Sophomore Terra Burns and senior Candyce Brown have provided strong defense on the perimeter, while senior Tara Miller and sophomores Azjah Bass and Chloe Hamilton provide depth off the bench.

A Look At The Crusaders: Valparaiso heads into this Friday's meeting with a 9-7 overall record and a 4-2 mark in Horizon League play after picking up a pair of wins over UIC and Loyola last weekend. A high-powered offense has been key to the Crusaders' success, as they average a league-high 65.9 points per game thanks largely to their 6.0 three-pointers per contest. Four players average double-figure scoring totals, led by junior forward Lauren Kenny who boasts team highs with 12.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. Senior forward Aimee Litka ranks second in scoring (12.3 ppg) thanks to a team-best 2.3 treys per game, while senior guard Launa Hochstetler leads the way with a league-high 4.9 assists.

The Series Against Valpo: Friday's contest at Hinkle Fieldhouse will be the 20th meeting between the two teams and just the third as league foes, with the Bulldogs holding a 15-4 advantage in the series which dates back to the 1979-80 campaign. Butler claimed wins in 13 of the first 14 meetings from 1979 to 1991, with the Crusaders earning their lone victory during the 1983-84 season. Following a 10-year lay-off, the series renewed for the 2000-01 season with the Bulldogs claiming a 67-60 win on a neutral floor in the Hoosier Classic. Valpo won the next three games before Butler scored a win in the final match of the regular season last year.

The Last Time Against Valpo: The Bulldogs hit 10 three pointers and used a stifling defensive effort in the final minutes to come back for a 66-58 victory over Valparaiso on March 8, 2009, for their 20th win of the season. Butler finished with a 40.4 percent effort from the field (21-for-52) while tying its season-high with 10 treys. After shooting 41.4 percent in the opening frame, Valparaiso hit just 30.8 percent (8-for-26) in the second, including an 0-for-6 stretch during the final six minutes. Lade Akande (15), Cassie Freeman (12) and Candyce Brown (11) finished with double-figure scoring totals.

Butler Cools Flames: Melanie Thornton tallied her second-straight double-double, while Terra Burns and Candace Jones each added double-figure points, as the Bulldogs used an explosive second-half on offense and another dominant defensive performance to shut-down UIC, 58-48, on Saturday (Jan. 17) afternoon at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler continued to ride the crushing defense that has them out to the second-best start to the conference season in program history, holding the Flames more than 17 points below their season scoring average (65.1).

Defensive Longevity: Butler's 48 points allowed to UIC marked the seventh-consecutive contest it had held an opponent to 50 or fewer points - tied for the longest such streak in school history. The 1978-79 team held seven-straight foes to 50 or less, allowing an average of just 40.9 points per game during the streak.

League-Wide Dominance: It's not just the women's basketball team that has been perfect in the Horizon League this year. The men's team enters this weekend with a 7-0 record in conference play, giving Butler a combined 13-0 mark in the league. That effort ranks as the best combined league record in all of Division I, with Louisville (9-0) as the closest competitor.

You're Number Two: With 1,566 points scored in her career, senior center Lade Akande ranks second on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring list. After entering the season in seventh place, Akande steadily climbed the chart before moving into sole possession of second by passing Elza Purvlicis (1,517) with her first bucket against Youngstown State on Jan. 5. The Robinson, Ill., native will need quite a strong finish to the season to catch record-holder Julie VonDielingen (2,018), needing an average of over 37 points per game in the final 12 regular season games to break the mark. Akande became just the 19th player in school history to notch 1,000 points in her career early last season and quickly climbed up to seventh by the end of the year. She also became the first non-senior player to reach 1,000 points in her career since Marlow in 1997-98.

...And Making Other Lists: By pulling in 109 rebounds so far this season, Lade Akande stands in seventh-place on the career rebounding list with 682. Akande also finds herself ranked in four other categories, including blocks (125 - 4th) and field goals made (643 - 2nd).

Milestone Check: With the Bulldogs' win over UIC, seventh-year head coach Beth Couture moved to within four victories of her 100th at Butler. Her 96 wins are the third most in school history. Additionally, Couture recorded her 350th collegiate coaching victory in 20 seasons between Presbyterian College (258) and Butler against Youngstown State on Jan. 5.

Breaking Even: A win over Valparaiso on Friday would give Beth Couture a 97-97 record in six-plus seasons with the Bulldogs - her first .500 record with the team since beginning her tenure at 1-1 during the 2002-03 campaign. Couture has matched or increased Butler's win total in every season she has been at the helm, going from six in her first year to 20 last season.

Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs are 10-1 this season when they hold their opponent to fewer than 60 points.

Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler is 9-0 on the year when heading into the locker room with a lead at halftime.

Trend Breakers: Butler's wins over Loyola and UIC last weekend marked the first times this season that it came out on top after trailing at the break. The Bulldogs trailed the Ramblers by two and the Flames by four at half time before rallying for victories in the second period.

The First 20: If leading at halftime is as important as it seems, the Bulldogs' first-half defense has given them reason to be optimistic. Butler has allowed just 26.1 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and has held five opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including three of the last five.

The Best Offense: ...is a great defense. Butler's defense has been crucial to the team's success this season. The Bulldogs rank second in the Horizon League and 39th in the NCAA in scoring defense (55.8 ppg) as well as second in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (37.9 percent). Butler has held eight foes to 50 or fewer points during the year, including in each of the last seven games.

Bench Dominance: The Butler bench has out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 220 point margin (415 to 195), which equates to an average of 13.7 more points per game (25.9 to 12.1). In fact, the Bulldogs' leading scorer in eight of 16 games has come off the bench, while the bench as a whole has accounted for over 40 percent of the team's total offense (415 of 1,022).

Going Postal: Butler's success has been largely dictated by the play of a pair of post players, as senior Lade Akande (12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds) and junior Melanie Thornton (11.9, 8.4) have ranked as the top two scorers and rebounders on the team all season long.

Crime Prevention: Opponents have not had much luck picking the pockets of the Bulldogs this year. Butler has averaged just 16.0 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average puts them in second place in the league standings in fewest turnovers per game, while their +3.9 turnover margin is second in the league and 41st in the NCAA.

...From Effective Helpers: A trio of Bulldog players find themselves ranked in the Horizon League's top-10 list in assist-to-turnover ratio heading into Saturday's game. Senior Tara Miller leads the team and is third in the Horizon League with a 1.5 A/T ratio, while senior Candyce Brown is fifth with a 1.4 ratio. Freshman Devin Brierly, meanwhile, is ninth with a 1.2 A/T ratio. Butler is the only league school with at least three players listed among the top-10.

Quite A Start: Melanie Thornton has already put together a year to remember. Her 203 points, 142 rebounds and 47 steals through 17 games this year have already surpassed her career totals in her 55 games played as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 8.4 rebounds per game lead the team and her 11.9 points are the second-most.

Among The League's Best: Thornton's performance this year not only has her ranked at the top of the team's stats but also have her among the best in the Horizon League. She finds herself listed in the league's top-10 in six categories, including a first-place ranking in defensive rebounds and second-place marks in blocks and total rebounds per game.

Highway Robbery: Thornton's 2.6 steals per game rank among the best in the NCAA this year, as her average puts her 40th in all of Division I.

Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen has been one of Butler's top offensive players in the last nine games, averaging 12.1 points per contest while hitting a total of 17 three-pointers. Included in that stretch was 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, eight rebounds and 39 minutes played. Her 22 threes this year lead the team, while her .373 three-point percentage is eighth in the league.

In Elite Company: Senior center Lade Akande has assembled one of the finest careers in school history during her three-plus years on the team. In fact, this year she accomplished something that only three other Butler players have ever done. Her five rebounds against William & Mary pushed her career rebounding total to 603, making her just the fourth player in Bulldogs history to record over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks in their career. She currently touts 1,566 points, 682 rebounds and 125 blocks in her career.

1,000 On The Radar: With 793 points through her first two-plus seasons, junior Susan Lester ranks second in career scoring among Butler's active players. She already finds herself on the Bulldogs' career three-pointers-made list, checking in at 10th with 92.

Battle-Tested: The Bulldogs will play 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 have won three of the seven meetings so far, topping Evansville (70-52), Miami (86-81, 2OT) and CSU (55-46).

Marginally Impressive: Butler has had quite a knack for registering big wins this season. In fact, three of the Bulldogs' 11 wins have come by margins of 30 or more points, including a dominant 43-point victory over Christian Brothers that ranks as the 15th-largest margin in school history. The 1998-99 Bulldogs were the last squad to post three 30-point wins in a season.

Grand Theft: The Bulldogs' 25 steals against Christian Brothers ranks as a single-game high in the Horizon League this season and is 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.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Twenty-three of the Bulldogs' games this season will feature free live streaming video online. The Horizon League Network will feature 21 of those contests, including all of Butler's home games and every league road game. Additionally, the Bulldogs' games at Ohio State and Indiana were both streamed live on BigTenNetwork.com.

National Attention: The Bulldogs will get national attention in February, as their game against Wright State on Feb. 6 will be broadcast live on ESPNU beginning at 9 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It will be the fourth time in four seasons Butler will appear on the ESPN network.

Next Up: Butler travels to Wisconsin next weekend when it takes on reigning Horizon League regular season champion Green Bay on Thursday, Jan. 29, beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET.