February 5, 2008

Bulldogs Tangle With Flames On Thursday

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GAME 21
UIC (8-12, 4-5 HL) at Butler (14-6, 4-5 HL)
Thursday, Feb. 7 - 7:00 p.m.
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: The Bulldogs get their second look at UIC this season on Thursday (Feb. 7) when the two teams square-off beginning at 7:00 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler, which is coming off a convincing 63-48 victory over Youngstown State, will play for its third-straight win against the Flames after notching a 72-57 decision in Chicago on Jan. 12.

A Look At The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 14-6 overall mark is the program's best record through 20 games since the 1997-98 season (16-4). Butler is also only three wins away from topping its 16-win total from last season and notching the most victories (17) since the 1998-99 campaign.

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 (14-6, 4-5 Horizon League) tries to pull even in league play when it hosts UIC on Thursday (Feb. 7). The Bulldogs have been one of the best defensive teams in the conference this year, holding opponents to a league low 60.4 points per game while ranking second with +5.2 point scoring margin. Butler has also been among the best at taking care of the basketball, ranking second in the league with a 0.91 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks 11th on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,194 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the team this season, leading the squad with 15.8 points per game and ranking second with 6.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.8 points and a team-best 7.7 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 34 three-pointers. Freshmen guards Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass have been the team's top perimeter players of late, with Bowen averaging 6.0 points and Bass adding 5.5. Junior guard Candyce Brown, meanwhile, has started in the last four games and is third on the squad with 2.0 assists. Junior forward Tara Miller leads all of Division I with a 3.53 assists-to-turnovers ratio and paces the team with 3.4 assists per game, while junior guard Candace Jones ranks third on the team in scoring (8.0) and second in assists (3.2). Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman have played in all but one contest this season and add a strong post presence off the bench. Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic option in the paint, while freshman forward Chloe Hamilton and sophomore center Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (79-87) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Flames: UIC enters Thursday's contest with an 8-12 overall record and a 4-5 mark in Horizon League play. The Flames have won four of their last five games, including a 66-36 drubbing of Detroit on Saturday (Feb. 2). UIC has been one of the top defensive teams in the league, ranking second in field goal defense (.396), rebounds (37.6) and blocks (3.58). Sophomore guard Jessie Miller paces the squad with 13.8 points per game and 3.3 assists per contest, while sophomore guard Briana Hinkle has added 12.4 points and 2.2 steals. Junior center Nikki Grobbecker leads the team with 6.1 boards per game. Head coach Lisa Ryckbosch (86-81) is in her sixth season at the helm.

You Again?: UIC will be the first repeat league opponent for the Bulldogs this season. Butler scored a 72-57 victory in Chicago on Jan. 12.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Butler and UIC will be meeting for the 39th time in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding a 21-17 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 12-6 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: Four scorers finished in double-figures and the Bulldogs rediscovered their long-range shooting touch with nine three-pointers, as Butler picked up a convincing 72-57 victory over host UIC on Jan. 12 at the UIC Pavilion. Lade Akande led Butler with 17 points, including 13 in the second half, while adding seven boards, three assists, two blocks and a pair of picks. Candace Jones finished with 16 points, Candace Bain added 11 and Brittany Bowen finished with 10.

Butler D Stymies Penguins: Susan Lester tallied her sixth double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 boards, Lade Akande notched a game-high 18 points and the Bulldogs, who had been in need of a strong defensive performance, shut down visiting Youngstown State in claiming a 63-48 victory over the Penguins on Saturday afternoon. Butler held the Penguins to its lowest opponent total since limiting Oakland City to 46 on Dec. 3 while holding a commanding 42-28 edge in points in the paint. Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass each added 10 points.

The Defense Strikes Back: The Butler defense got back on track on Saturday against Youngstown State. The Bulldogs held the Penguins to just 48 points in the game, the fifth time Butler has limited a foe to 50 points or fewer and the lowest opponent total since stopping Oakland City at 46 points. Butler, which currently leads the Horizon League with 60.4 points allowed per game, had held only one of their previous five opponents to under 65 points.

...And Stops Them Cold Early: The Butler defense hasn't shined any better this season than it did in the first half against Youngstown State. The Bulldogs held YSU to just 17 first-period points, the lowest total for an opponent in a half this year. During that 20-minute span, the Penguins converted just 6-of-24 from the field (25 percent).

Stop `Em At 64: The Bulldogs are 12-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

Good Riddance, January: It's safe to say that the Bulldogs have had better months than this past January. After posting a 4-1 record in November and a perfect 6-0 slate in December, Butler finished the month of January with a 3-5 mark. However, if recent history is any indication, things could be turning for the better in February. Butler is 19-11 during the month in the past four years, not including Saturday's win over Youngstown State.

Mixing It Up: After starting the same five players through the Bulldogs' first 15 games of the year, Butler head coach Beth Couture mixed up the line-up in the last five contests. Butler has used five different lineups during that span, with freshman Azjah Bass and junior Candyce Brown starting in four of the five, junior Tara Miller starting twice and seniors Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman, junior Candace Jones and freshman Chloe Hamilton earning one start each.

Passing With Flying Colors: Thanks to some outstanding passing efforts this season, Butler forward Tara Miller continues to sit at the top of the NCAA Division I standings in assists-to-turnovers ratio. She currently touts 67 assists on the year to just 19 turnovers for an A/T ratio of 3.53. Miller had been the Horizon League's leader in A/T ratio for almost all of the season, but she initially did not qualify for the national rankings because she lacked the minimum of 3.0 assists per game required by the NCAA. An eight assist performance against UIC on Jan. 12, however, lifted her assists per game average above 3.0 and her A/T ratio to the top of the NCAA charts, where it has remained since Jan. 14.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 18-point performance against Youngstown State on Saturday, the Robinson, Ill., native stands in 11th place with 1,194 points in her career and needs just 21 points to pass Debbie Benziger's 10th-place total of 1,214. Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

On Second Thought: Head coach Beth Couture must have some really motivating halftime speeches, because Butler has played some of its best basketball in the second period this year. In 20 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly six points more in the second period than in the first (35.7 to 30.0). The difference has been even more significant in league play, with Butler scoring 6.6 more points after the break (35.0 to 28.4). Butler has also averaged only 6.6 turnovers in the second period compared with 9.2 in the first half (-2.6 difference).

The First 20: The Bulldogs may be a second-half team, but the first period seems to have had a lot of impact on how the team fares in a game. Butler is 12-1 this year when heading into the locker room either leading or tied at the break.

Cleaning The Glass: Sophomore forward Susan Lester has continued to be one of the best rebounders in the Horizon League this year after finishing third in the league with 6.6 rebounds per game as a freshman last season. The Anderson, Ind., native currently finds herself in second place with 7.7 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on nine occasions and boasts a team-best six double-doubles.

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 15.8 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and tied for seventh in the conference with 13.8 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 tied for fourth in the league with 5.7 three pointers made per game and third with 366 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 34.

...And How About That Perimeter 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 are second in the league by holding their foes to a .312 three-point shooting percentage (86-of-276) and are tops in the conference by allowing just 4.3 treys per game. In fact, four opponents have been held to two or fewer three-pointers in a game (Ohio and Bradley with one, Ball State and Loyola with two), while only three have scored more than five.

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, leading the league with only 60.4 points allowed per game. In fact, Butler has held five of its opponents to 50 points or fewer this season.

Making The Most Of Her Minutes: Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton might only play around six minutes per game, but she certainly makes them productive minutes. The Carmel, Ind., native averages 0.51 points per minute played, which may not sound like much but actually equates to 20.5 points per 40 minutes, the second-best efficiency on the team. Her .485 field goal percentage (16-for-33) is also the second-best mark on the squad.

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 closes out its four-game homestand on Saturday (Feb. 9) when it hosts Loyola beginning at 2:00 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse.