February 29, 2008

Bulldogs Close Road Trip At Cleveland State On Saturday

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GAME 28
Butler (18-9, 8-8 HL) at Cleveland State (15-10, 9-6 HL)
Saturday, March 1 - 3:00 p.m.
Wolstein Center - Cleveland, Ohio

The Opening Tip: Butler concludes its final road swing of the regular season on Saturday (March 1) while trying for its third win in a row when it takes on Cleveland State beginning at 3:00 p.m. in the Wolstein Center. The Bulldogs, who enter the game with an 18-9 overall record, will try to build on their most successful season in over a decade.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 18-9 overall mark is the program's best record through 27 games since the 1997-98 season (23-4). Butler's 18 victories are also the most for a single season during head coach Beth Couture's six years at the helm.

Butler Basketball On The Web: Butler's game against the Vikings 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 tries to build on its winningest season in the last decade when it takes on Cleveland State on Saturday night. The Bulldogs have been one of the top defensive teams in the conference, ranking second with 61.8 points per game and with a +3.2 point scoring margin. Butler has also been among the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with only 15.0 turnovers per game and ranking second with a 0.92 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks ninth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,312 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 6.3 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 12.5 points and a team-high 7.0 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 42 three-pointers. Freshman guards Azjah Bass and Brittany Bowen have stepped up their games in conference play, with Bass averaging 6.0 points and Bowen scoring 7.7. Junior guard Candyce Brown has started in the last 11 games and is third on the squad with 2.3 assists. Junior forward Tara Miller is tied for the Division-I lead with a 3.33 assists-to-turnovers ratio and is second on the team with 3.1 assists per game, while junior guard Candace Jones leads the team in assists (3.1) and is third in scoring (7.2). 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. Freshmen Terra Burns and Chloe Hamilton and sophomore Amie Kabara add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (83-90) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Vikings: Cleveland State enters Saturday's game with a 15-11 overall record and a 9-6 mark in Horizon League play after dropping four of their last five games, including a 66-52 defeat to Valparaiso on Thursday. CSU has taken advantage of a league-best .796 free throw percentage and a league second-best .394 opponent field goal percentage to give itself a +2.7 point scoring margin on the year. Sophomore guard Kailey Klein leads the team and is second in the league with 19.7 points per game, junior forward Dominique Butler boasts 5.8 boards and senior guard Brittany Korth touts 4.0 assists. Head coach Kate Peterson Abiad (43-98) is in her fifth season at Cleveland State.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's game at the Wolstein Center will be the 28th meeting between Butler and CSU in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding an 18-9 advantage in the series that began during the 1994-95 season. The Bulldogs claimed the first eight matches and nine of the first 10 before the Vikings notched victories in seven of the following eight games. Since then, Butler won eight in a row before falling to CSU, 65-61, on Jan. 31, 2008.

The Last Time Against CSU: Lade Akande and Susan Lester combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds and the host Bulldogs rallied for a one-point lead with less than a minute to play, but Cleveland State converted seven of eight free throws in the final seconds to hold on for a 65-61 decision on Jan. 31. The two squads battled until the bitter end in a contest that saw 10 ties and 12 lead changes, including 11 in the second period, before the Vikings took advantage of three Butler fouls in the final minute.

Second-Half Rally Gives Butler Win: A second-half offensive surge capped by a critical defensive stop at the end of the game helped Butler to a 61-60 victory over Youngstown State on Thursday night at the Beeghly Center. Leading by one with 24 seconds to go, Butler thwarted any chance of a game-winning shot by the Penguins before intercepting a pass to seal the win as time expired. Lade Akande led the Bulldogs with 12 points and Susan Lester added 11.

Stop `Em At 64: Including their 61-60 win over Youngstown State on Feb. 28, the Bulldogs are 15-0 on the year when holding their opponents to fewer than 65 points in a game.

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 27 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged nearly six points more in the second period than in the first (35.4 to 29.6). Butler has also averaged only 6.4 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.7 in the first half (-2.3 difference).

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 13-1 this year when heading into the locker room with a lead at the break.

Learning On The Fly: Freshmen guards Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass have come into their own during league play this season, as the two newcomers rank third and fourth on the team in scoring at 7.7 and 6.0 points per game, respectively. The tandem has had some of their most impressive performances of late. In the last eight games, Bowen is averaging 8.8 points per contest, including five double-figure scoring efforts and a career-best 20 points against UIC on Feb. 7, while Bass has averaged 7.0 points per game with three double-digit games and a career-high 18 points at Wright State on Jan. 26.

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 18 victories this season, opponents have managed just 38.4 percent from the field while scoring only 57.4 points per game. In the nine losses, however, Butler's foes have converted 51.7 percent for 70.6 points.

Holding On To 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 eight of the last 12 contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 28th in the country with 15.1 turnovers per game.

...Taking It From Others: Opponents have not had the same amount of luck as the Bulldogs when it comes to maintaining possession. Butler foes have turned over the ball 18.7 times per game while the Bulldogs rank third in the conference with 9.5 steals per game, including double-figure pick totals in seven of the last eight contests.

...And Making Them Pay: Butler has used its opponents' miscues to its advantage this year, averaging 17.1 points off turnovers per game, including 10 games with 20 or more points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have only allowed 14.0 points per game resulting from turnovers. In fact, 26.3 percent (461-of-1,755) of Butler's points have come off turnovers.

Tracking The Bracket: If the Horizon League Championship was to begin today, the Bulldogs would enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed and would travel to No. 3 seed Cleveland State on March 12. Butler is currently tied for fifth in the standings with Valparaiso at 8-8, but the Crusaders hold the tie-breaker by virtue of a 77-69 win over the Bulldogs on Jan. 5.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to climb the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. With her 12-point performance against Youngstown State on Thursday, the Robinson, Ill., sits in ninth place on Butler's all-time scoring chart with 1,312 points in her career. She is now just eight 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 totaling 11 points off the bench against YSU, sophomore Susan Lester brought her career scoring total to 624 points, which is second most among Butler's active players.

Reaching Rare Figures: Lade Akande not only ranks among the top 10 all-time in scoring but she is also fourth on the Butler charts with 108 career blocks. In fact, with 549 career rebounds, she is just 51 boards shy of becoming just the fourth Bulldog player ever with over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career.

National Recognition For Passing: Junior forward Tara Miller has found herself among the best in the country when it comes to handling the ball this season. She is currently tied for first in all of the NCAA Division-I with a 3.33 A/T ratio with Kristi Cirone of Illinois State. Miller has been ranked first or second nationally in A/T ratio since Jan. 14, including a 25-day stint from Jan. 14 to Feb. 7 at the top of the NCAA charts. Her 3.1 assists per game are second on the team and are 13th in the league.

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 12th in the conference with 12.5 points to her credit.

Out Of Range: Just because the Bulldogs have focused their offense away from the perimeter doesn't mean they are going to allow their opponents to take advantage of long range scoring. Butler is second in the conference by allowing just 4.9 treys per game and have held eight opponents to three or fewer three-pointers in a game.

Hard To Miss: Lade Akande has not only been one of the most effective scorers in the Horizon League this year, she has also been one of the most efficient shooters in the nation. Akande is 27th in the Division-I rankings with a .555 field goal percentage (183-for-330).

Youth Movement: Butler's success this season has been greatly impacted by the quick maturation of its newcomers. This year's rookie class has been thrust into action, with at least one freshman player earning a start in all 27 games and two rookies in the lineup in each of the past eight contests. In fact, the four active freshmen players have been responsible for nearly 24 percent (238-of-1,013) of the team's scoring in Horizon League play this year.

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 third in the league with 7.0 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on 10 occasions and boasts a team-best seven double-doubles.

Uncommon Non-Conference: The Bulldogs' 10-1 record against non-Horizon League opponents this season was the best mark since the 1990-91 squad finished with a 10-1 slate.

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: The regular season comes to a close on Saturday (March 8) when the Bulldogs welcome in-state foe Valparaiso to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a 12:00 noon game. Prior to contest, Butler will honor its two senior members: forwards Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman. The game was originally slated for a 2:00 p.m. tip but had to be moved up to accommodate the semifinals of the Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship.