Butler (16-8, 11-2 Horizon) at Valparaiso (13-11, 7-6 Horizon)
Saturday, Feb. 21 - 2:35 p.m. ET
Athletics-Recreation Center - Valparaiso, Ind.
The Opening Tip: Winners of four-straight games and 12 of its last 14 contests, Butler closes out a three-game road trip on Saturday (Feb. 21) afternoon when it battles in-state rival Valparaiso beginning at 2:35 p.m. ET (1:35 p.m. CT) at the Athletics-Recreation Center. After clinching their fourth-straight winning season with a victory over Loyola last weekend, the Bulldogs pit their oppressive defense against a Crusader team that ranks among the league leaders in scoring.
How's That For Starters: Butler's 11-2 league record is the program's best start to the conference season since 1997-98 and is tied for the second-best mark through 13 games in program history.
Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's contest against Valparaiso will feature live streaming video online at the Horizon League Network. The game 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.
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 11 of their first 13 Horizon League contests by holding all but three teams to 50 or fewer points. Strong defense has been the critical element to the team's success this year, as 14 of the Bulldogs' 16 wins have come by holding their opponents to less than 60 points. A trio of post players has been the driving force behind the team during the year, as senior Lade Akande (10.9 points, 6.0 rebounds) and juniors Melanie Thornton (10.8, 7.8) and Susan Lester (10.0, 5.8) pace the team in both points and rebounds. Sophomore Brittany Bowen (10.0 points, 37 three-pointers) has been the most effective long-range scorer, while sophomore Terra Burns (2.6 assists) and senior Candyce Brown (1.8) rank 1-2 in assists per game and provide strong perimeter defense. The Butler bench has been elemental in the team's success during the year, as the Bulldog reserves have out-scored their foes in all but three games and have accounted for nearly 40 percent of the squad's offensive output.
A Look At The Crusaders: Valparaiso enters this Saturday's game with a 13-11 overall record and a 7-6 mark in league play after claiming a 69-60 win over non-league foe Chicago State on Tuesday (Feb. 17). Prior to that, the Crusaders had won two of their previous three league contests. Valpo ranks third in the conference by averaging 64.2 points per game thanks in part to a league-high 6.8 three pointers per contest. Senior forward Aimee Litka is paces the squad with 11.8 points and 2.3 treys per game, while junior forward Lauren Kenney averages 10.1 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds. Senior guards Launa Hochstetler (11.5) and Agnieszka Kulaga (10.9) also average double-figure points.
The Series Against Valpo: Saturday's contest at the ARC will be the 21st meeting between the two teams and just the fourth as league foes, with the Bulldogs holding a 16-4 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, but Butler has won the past two, including a 77-44 win in Indianapolis in January.
The Last Time Against Valparaiso: Susan Lester erupted for a career-high 31 points - including an astounding 27 in the first half alone - as the Bulldogs rolled to a convincing 77-44 victory over Valparaiso on Friday (Jan. 23) evening at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Lester's scoring line in the first half (10-14 FG, 4-6 3FG, 27 points) dwarfed the entire Crusader's lineup (5-19 FG, 1-4 3FG, 19 points), as the Bulldogs rode an incredible 70.4 percent effort from the field (19-27) to its fifth 30+ point victory of the season. The junior forward earned league player of the week honors thanks to her performance.
Butler Holds Off Loyola: Brittany Bowen and Susan Lester each notched a team-high 18 points, Lade Akande added 12 and the Bulldogs hung on against a determined Loyola team to score a 71-63 victory on Saturday (Feb. 14) at the Joseph J. Gentile Center. The Bulldogs took advantage of 18 points from the free throw line and a whopping 42 in the paint while converting 19 off Loyola turnovers. A game that featured eight lead changes and seven ties saw the Bulldogs trail by as much as seven and lead by as many as 11 during the 40 minute contest between one of the league's top defensive teams and best shooting squads.
Lester Earns Second Weekly Award: After averaging a double-double while helping the Bulldogs to a pair of league victories last weekend, junior forward Susan Lester was named the Horizon League's Women's Basketball Player of the Week. Lester averaged a double-double with 19.0 points per game and a team-best 10.0 rebounds in two games last weekend. She finished with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting and a game-high 13 rebounds at UIC for her second double-double of the year and added two assists and a team-high three steals. Two days later at Loyola, she finished tied for the team-lead with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting (.667) and added a game-best seven rebounds.
Guaranteed Success: The Bulldogs' win over the Ramblers gave them their 16th victory of the season and assured them of their fourth-straight winning season. It is also the third-straight season that Butler will finish with at least 16 wins. Butler finished with 20 wins in 2007-08, the most in a single season since the 1997-98 campaign.
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 21st in the NCAA in scoring defense (54.7 ppg) as well as third in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (37.7 percent).
Defensive Longevity: The Bulldog defense might be one of the best in the Horizon League, but for an eight-game stretch at the start of league play, they were one of the best in school history. From Dec. 29 to Jan. 23, Butler held eight consecutive opponents to 50 or fewer points, the longest such streak in school history. Opponents averaged just 45.3 points during the run. The 1978-79 team held the previous mark of seven-straight of allowing 50 or fewer.
Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs are 14-2 this season when they hold their opponent to fewer than 60 points.
...But 50 Is Better: Butler is 13-0 on the year and 10-0 in league play when it holds opponents to 50 or fewer points.
Century Mark: The Bulldogs' win over UIC on Feb. 12 gave head coach Beth Couture her 100th victory at Butler. Her 100 wins are the third-most in school history, ranking behind only Linda Mason (124) and June Olkowski (114).
Back In The Black: Not only did Butler's win over UIC give Beth Couture 100 victories in her Bulldog career, but it also boosted her record above .500 for the first time in her six-plus seasons at the helm. She currently boasts a 101-99 mark at Butler. Couture has matched or increased the Bulldogs' win total in each of her previous seasons, going from just six in her first year to 20 last year. She boasts a 359-216 (.624) record in over 19 seasons of coaching between both Butler and Presbyterian College.
You're Number Two: With 1,621 points scored in her career, senior center Lade Akande ranks second on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring list. The Robinson, Ill., native steadily climbed from seventh place at the start of the season to second after passing Elza Purvlicis (1,517) with her first bucket against Youngstown State on Jan. 5. First place appears to be out of reach, however, as Julie VonDielingen holds the school record of 2,018 points. 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: With 717 career rebounds, Lade Akande sits alone in fifth place on the Bulldogs' career rebounding chart. She'll need 57 more to catch Sarah Schuetz in fourth place (774) and a whole lot more to reach record-holder Elza Purvlicis (1,050). Akande has a legitimate chance at finishing her career ranked in the top-10 in 11 statistical categories, including scoring average, rebounding average, field goal percentage and minutes played.
In Rare Company: With her 13 rebounds against Detroit on Feb. 8, senior center Lade Akande surpassed 700 rebounds in her career and became just the second player in school history to boast over 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career. Elza Purvlicis (1981-84) is the other player, boasting 1,517 points, 1,050 boards and 164 blocked shots.
1,000 On The Radar: With 908 career points, junior Susan Lester needs to average 15.3 points per game in the final six remaining guaranteed contests to become the 20th player in school history with 1,000 career points. She already finds herself on the Bulldogs' career three-pointers-made list, checking in at eighth with 104.
Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler is 14-1 on the year when leading or tied at halftime.
...And Lester Helped With That: Susan Lester's 27 points scored in the first half of the Bulldogs' win against Valparaiso on Jan. 23 was not only eight more than the entire Crusaders' roster for the half but was also tied for the highest total in a first half in all of Division I this year. Shantia Grace of South Florida scored 27 points in the first period against Coppin State on Nov. 23.
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 24.8 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and has held eight opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including six Horizon League foes.
Odd Yearly Trends: Happy New Year indeed, especially since there's a "9" on the end. In the last five calendar years (including the impressive 11-2 start to 2009), the Bulldogs boast a remarkable 47-23 record (.671) in odd years. Even years have not been as kind to Butler, however, as the Bulldogs finished both 2006 and 2008 with a combined 28-32 record (.467).
Bench Dominance: The Butler bench has out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 278 point margin (591 to 313) for an average of 11.6 more points per game (24.6 to 13.0). In fact, the team's leading scorer in 11 of 24 games has come off the bench, while the bench as a whole has accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team's total offense (591 of 1,525).
Speaking Of Bench Scoring: Susan Lester's 31 points off the bench against Valparaiso on Jan. 23 was tied for the second-highest bench player total in Division I this season. Jessica Breland of North Carolina also scored 31 points off the bench at Oklahoma on Nov. 23.
Crime Prevention: Opponents have not had much luck picking the pockets of the Bulldogs this year. Butler has averaged just 15.9 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average puts them in second place in the league standings and 48th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game, while their +3.6 turnover margin is second in the conference and 40th in the nation.
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 eight meetings so far, topping Evansville (70-52), Miami (86-81, 2OT) and CSU (55-46).
Going Postal: Butler's recent success has been largely dictated by the play of a trio of post players, as senior Lade Akande (10.9 points, 6.0 rebounds) and juniors Melanie Thornton (10.8, 7.8) and Susan Lester (10.0, 5.8) currently ranked as the top three scorers and rebounders on the team.
Quite A Year: Melanie Thornton has already put together a year to remember. Her 260 points, 188 rebounds and 63 steals through 24 games this year have already well surpassed her career totals in her 55 games combined as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 7.8 rebounds per game are tops on the team, while her 10.8 points per contest 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 is listed in the league's top-10 in five categories, including first place in defensive boards and third place marks in blocks and total rebounds.
Highway Robbery: Thornton's 2.6 steals per game rank among the best in the country this year, as her average puts her 41st in all of the NCAA Division I. Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen has been Butler's top offensive player in the last 16 games, leading the team with 12.6 points per contest while hitting a total of 32 three-pointers during that stretch. The current run began with 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 37 threes this year lead the team, while her .477 three-point percentage (3rd) 1.6 three-pointers made (8th) rank among the top-10 in the Horizon League.
Downright Offensive: Susan Lester's 31 points against Valpo finished just six shy of the Butler school record and was the school's highest single-game point total since Sarah Bolten matched the Bulldog record with 37 against Bowling Green on Dec. 4, 2001. Lester's 27 first half points were eight more than the entire Valparaiso roster and her 10 first period field goals made were twice that of the Crusaders.
What Can Brown Do For You?: It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the Bulldogs are an impressive 12-2 this season with senior guard Candyce Brown as a starter. A team co-captain this season, Brown's leadership on the floor has been vital to the success of the team, so much so that she has averaged a team-high 29.0 minutes of playing time during conference play.
Taking Advantage Of Charity: Butler is 15-1 on the season when it out-scores its opponents from the free throw line, including a perfect 10-0 mark in league play.
Making Her Point: In just her second season, sophomore guard Terra Burns has stepped up as the Bulldogs' top option at the point in 2008-09. The Peoria, Ill., native has earned a starting spot in 17 games this season - the first of her career - and has been the Butler starter at the one-guard in the last 14 contests. She has averaged a team-high 2.8 assists per game and boasts 6.9 points per game in league contests.
Dominating The League Stats: As if the 11-2 league record wasn't indicative enough. The Bulldogs rank among the top-three in the league in a total of 12 conference-only statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounds and blocks.
So You Want To Be A Coach: Senior guard Tara Miller has been invited to participate in the upcoming seventh annual Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) So You Want To Be A Coach Program to be held in conjunction with the organization's national convention April 3-7 in St. Louis, Mo. She is one of just 54 women's basketball players in the country to be named to the 2009 class. Those selected will take part in a two-and-a-half day workshop during the national convention. Each participant is selected based on their academics, contributions to women's basketball on and off the court, professional resume and a written recommendation from their head coach.
Marginally Impressive: Butler has had quite a knack for registering big wins this season. In fact, 10 of Butler's 16 wins have come by margins of 15 or more points, while four have been by 30 or more, including a dominant 43-point victory over Christian Brothers that ranks as the 15th-largest margin in school history. The 1982-83 Bulldogs were the last squad to post four or more 30-point wins in a season.
Grand Theft: The Bulldogs' 25 steals against Christian Brothers rank as the second-highest single-game total 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.
Sharp-Shooters: Butler's 55.0 field goal percentage (22-for-40) against Wright State on Feb. 6 was the program's best single-game accuracy in nearly 10 years, when the Bulldogs hit 31-of-50 (62.0 percent) from the field against (coincidentally) the Raiders on Feb. 20, 1999. Butler has hit over 50 percent in just two other games this season, coming at home against Youngstown State and Valparaiso.
Bulldogs Ink Four For 2009-10: High school seniors Becca Bornhorst (6-1, F, Dublin, Ohio), Claire Freeman (5-9, G, Fishers, Ind.), Dragana Grbic (6-3, C, Terre Haute, Ind.) and Liz Jennings (6-1, F, Anderson, Ind.) each signed National Letters of Intent on the first day of the Early Signing Period. The quartet will attend Butler and play basketball beginning next fall.
Next Up: The Bulldogs return to Hinkle
Fieldhouse as they open up the final regular season home series of
the year against Milwaukee on Thursday (Feb. 26) beginning at 7:00