February 15, 2008

Bulldogs Battle Green Bay Saturday On ESPN-U

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GAME 24
Butler (16-7, 6-6 HL) at Green Bay (19-4, 11-1 HL)
Saturday, Feb. 16 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Kress Center - Green Bay, Wis.

The Opening Tip: Butler closes a two-game road trip through Wisconsin on Saturday (Feb. 16) when it takes on Green Bay in a rematch of the 2007 Horizon League Championship beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local) at the newly-opened Kress Center. The game will be broadcast live nationally on ESPN-U.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 16-7 overall mark is the program's best record through 23 games since the 1997-98 season (19-4). Butler's 16 victories also match last season's win total and are tied for the team's most under head coach Beth Couture's five-plus years at the helm.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler build on a much-needed 75-73 victory over Milwaukee on Feb. 14 when it takes on league-leading Green Bay on Saturday. The Bulldogs have been one of the top defensive teams in the conference, ranking second with 60.7 points per game and second with a +4.9 point scoring margin. Butler has also been the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with only 15.3 turnovers per game and a 0.93 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks ninth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,248 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the squad this season with a team-best 16.1 points per game while ranking second with 6.6 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.6 points and a team-high 7.7 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 38 three-pointers. Freshman guard Azjah Bass has been one of the hottest offensive players of late, averaging 9.3 points per game in the last six contests, while freshman guard Brittany Bowen has scored 8.8 points in the last five games. Junior guard Candyce Brown has started in the last seven games and is third on the squad with 2.1 assists. Junior forward Tara Miller is second in the NCAA D-1 with a 3.08 assists-to-turnovers ratio and paces the team with 3.2 assists per game, while junior guard Candace Jones ranks third on the team in scoring (7.7) and second in assists (3.0). Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman have been the top post options off the bench, while sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic option in the paint. Freshman Terra Burns and Chloe Hamilton and sophomore Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (81-88) is in her sixth season with the Bulldogs.

A Look At The Phoenix: Green Bay heads into Saturday's contest with a 19-4 overall record and an 11-1 league mark having won 15 of its last 16 games and six in a row, including a 65-44 decision over Valparaiso on Thursday (Feb. 14). The Phoenix leads the league in scoring offense (74.1) and scoring defense (60.6) while shooting a conference-best 49.3 percent from the field. Four Green Bay players average double figures in scoring, with junior guard Rachel Porath leading the way with 13.8 points followed by senior guard Kayla Groh (13.8), junior center Lavesa Glover (12.0) and junior guard Kati Harty (11.3). Porath and junior forward Erin Templin are tied for the team lead with 5.7 rebounds per game. Head coach Matt Bollant (19-4) is in his first season with Green Bay.

Trying To End The Skid: A win by the Bulldogs on Saturday would end a 23-game losing streak to the Phoenix that dates back to the 1998-99 season.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Butler and Green Bay will be meeting for the 37th time in women's basketball, with the Phoenix holding a 29-7 advantage in the all-time series. The Bulldogs claimed a 61-56 win in the first meeting during the 1981-82 season and six of the next 12 match-ups until the 1998-99 campaign, but Green Bay has taken control of the series since then by winning 23 in a row, including a 91-64 decision over the Bulldogs in the Horizon League Championship game last year and a 73-58 defeat at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the last meeting on Jan. 17.

The Last Time Against Green Bay: Butler was unable to get its offense clicking in the early going as visiting Green Bay built up a double-digit lead midway through the first period en route to a 73-58 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 17. Despite several attempts to climb back into the contest, the Bulldogs were unable to get the defensive stops they needed throughout the game, as Green Bay controlled the scoring down low with a 46-to-22 edge on points in the paint and turned 20 Butler turnovers into 22 points. Susan Lester finished with a team-high 13 points and five rebounds, while Lade Akande and Brittany Bowen added eight points. Tara Miller finished with a team-best six assists.

Butler Holds Off Milwaukee, 75-73: Butler spotted itself to a 22-point halftime advantage with a 44-point opening frame - and it would need every last bit of it, as host Milwaukee scored 51 in the second period to close the gap to one before the Bulldogs held on for a 75-73 victory at the Klotsche Center on Thursday evening. Susan Lester tallied her seventh double-double of the season with 23 points and 12 rebounds and Lade Akande added 22 points and eight boards.

Quite A First Half: The Bulldogs' 44-point opening stanza at Milwaukee on Thursday was the most points scored in the first period since Butler tallied 45 against Indiana State on Dec. 1. The 22-point margin, meanwhile, was the largest since the Bulldogs spotted itself a 24-point lead (46-22) at the break in an eventual 78-55 win over Youngstown State on Dec. 29, 2005.

The First 20: How the Bulldogs play in the first period seems to have quite a bit of determination on how the team fares in a game. Butler is 13-0 this year when heading into the locker room with a lead at the break.

Tracking The Bracket: If the Horizon League Championship was to begin today, the Bulldogs would be heading to Dayton on March 12 as the No. 6 seed for a match-up with No. 3 seed Wright State. Butler is currently tied for fifth in the standings at 6-6 with Valparaiso and Youngstown State, but the Crusaders would earn the fifth seed by virtue of a 77-69 win over the Bulldogs in January. Butler could realistically move up several spots by tournament time, as it is only two games behind second-place Cleveland State (8-4).

Taking Care Of The Ball: Butler has been notably more adept at handling the basketball in the past few games, as the Bulldogs have yielded less than 15 turnovers in six of the last eight contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 31st in the country with 15.3 turnovers per game.

Tale Of Two Teams: The Bulldogs have played like two different teams at times this season, with one capable of shutting down an opponents' offense and another that struggles on the defensive end. In Butler's 16 victories this season, opponents have managed just 38.0 percent from the field while scoring only 56.9 points per game. In the seven losses, however, Butler's foes have converted 50.8 percent for 69.4 points per game.

Stop `Em At 64: The Bulldogs are 13-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

Passing Towards The Front: After reclaiming the NCAA Division I lead in assists-to-turnovers ratio last Monday (Feb. 10), junior forward Tara Miller dropped down to the number two spot when the national rankings were released on Friday (Feb. 15). Her 3.08 A/T ratio is just two-hundredths of a point behind new leader Kristi Cirone of Illinois State (3.10). Miller had been tops in the country for 25 straight days beginning on Jan. 14 before briefly dropping down to No. 2 on Feb. 8. Her 3.2 assists per game lead the team and are the 10th-most in the Horizon League.

Learning On The Fly: Freshmen guards Azjah Bass and Brittany Bowen might be in their first collegiate seasons, but they have been playing like seasoned vets of late. In her last six contests, Bass has averaged 9.3 points per game, including three double-figure scoring efforts and a career-best 18 points against Wright State on Jan. 26. Bowen, meanwhile, has scored 8.8 points in her last five, with three double-digit scoring games and a career-best 20 points against UIC on Feb. 7.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 22-point performance against Milwaukee on Thursday, the Robinson, Ill., sits in ninth place on Butler's all-time scoring chart with 1,248 points in her career. She is now just 72 points away from tying Sarah Schuetz's eighth-place total of 1,320. Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

Next In Line?: After scoring a game-high 23 points at Milwaukee on Thursday, sophomore Susan Lester brought her career scoring total to 600 points, which is second most among Butler's active players.

Making The Most Of Her Minutes: Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton might only be averaging around six minutes per game, but she certainly makes them productive minutes. The Carmel, Ind., native averages 0.52 points per minute played, which may not sound like much but actually equates to 20.8 points per 40 minutes, the second-best efficiency on the team. In fact, her highest scoring outputs have come with very little time on the floor, including a career-best 13 points in 15 minutes against Oakland City (Dec. 3) and eight points in 11 minutes against Loyola (Feb. 9). Her .475 field goal percentage (19-for-40) is also the second-best mark on the squad.

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 16.1 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and ninth in the conference with 13.6 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 fifth in the league with 5.5 three pointers made per game and third with 413 attempts. Ironically enough, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 38.

...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 tops in the conference by allowing just 4.6 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 five have scored more than five.

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 is currently second in the league with 7.7 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on 10 occasions and boasts a team-best seven double-doubles.

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 22-12 during the month in the past five years, including a decent 3-1 start to this February.

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 (Feb. 21) when it hosts Wright State beginning at 7:00 p.m.