March 4, 2008

Butler Closes Regular Season Against Valpo On Saturday

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GAME 29
Valparaiso (14-14, 9-8 HL) at Butler (19-9, 9-8 HL)
Saturday, March 8 - 12:00 noon
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Ind.

The Opening Tip: The regular season comes to a close at home on Saturday (March 8), as the Bulldogs (19-9, 9-8 Horizon League) welcome in-state rival Valparaiso to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a 12:00 noon tip. Butler, which carries a three-game winning streak into the contest, aims for its 20th win of the season while trying to avenge a 77-69 loss to the Crusaders at the start of the league slate on Jan. 5.

Senior Day: Prior to Saturday's game against Valpo, the Bulldogs will recognize seniors Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman, who will play in their final regular season game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Bracket Madness: Thanks to a pair of wins by the Bulldogs and two losses by Youngstown State last weekend, Butler has assured itself at least a No. 6 seed and a first-round bye into the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship. A win over Valparaiso on Saturday, meanwhile, would give Butler no lower than a No. 5 seed in the tournament. The Bulldogs could even move up as high as No. 3 with a win and the right combination of losses involving Cleveland State, Wright State and Milwaukee.

Crunching The Numbers: The Bulldogs' 19-9 overall mark is the program's best record through 28 games since the 1997-98 season (24-4). Butler's 19 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 Crusaders 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 on HLN" 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 goes for its 20th win of the year against Valparaiso on Saturday. The Bulldogs have been one of the top defensive teams in the league, ranking second with 61.5 points allowed. Butler has also been among the best at taking care of the basketball, leading the league with only 15.3 turnovers per game and ranking second with a 0.92 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who ranks eighth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring chart with 1,334 points, has been the biggest offensive catalyst on the squad this season with a team-best 16.3 points per game while ranking second with 6.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.1 points and a team-high 7.2 boards while adding outside shooting with a team-high 47 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones leads the team in assists (3.1) and is third in scoring (7.2), while junior guard Candyce Brown has started in the last 12 games and is third on the squad with 2.4 assists. Freshman guards Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass have stepped up their games in conference play, with Bowen scoring 7.2 points and Bass averaging 5.6. Junior forward Tara Miller ranks second in the NCAA Division-I with a 3.04 assists-to-turnovers ratio and is second on the team with 3.0 assists per game. 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 (84-90) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Crusaders: Valparaiso heads into its season finale with a 14-14 overall record and a 9-8 mark in league play. Three-point shooting has been key to the offense, with the Crusaders draining a league-high 7.3 treys per contest and ranking third with 66.8 points per game. Junior guard Agnieszka Kulaga paces the squad with 14.9 points and 5.1 boards per game, while junior forward Aimee Litka boasts 13.6 points thanks largely to a team-high 61 three-pointers. Junior guard Launa Hochstetler touts 10.3 points and a team-best 3.9 assists per game. Keith Freeman (243-166) is in his 14th season at Valparaiso.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's contest at Hinkle Fieldhouse will be the 19th meeting between the two teams and the second as league foes, with the Bulldogs holding a 14-4 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 has been the victor in the past three meetings, however, including a 77-69 win on Jan. 5.

The Last Time Against Valpo: Butler cut a 10-point halftime deficit to just two late in the second period, but host Valparaiso converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final minutes to hold on for a 77-69 decision at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Jan. 5. The Bulldogs rode a late 10-2 run to climb to within 61-59 with 4:39 to play, but the Crusaders held off the Butler rally for the win. Lade Akande led the team with 16 points, while Tara Miller chipped in 15.

Lester, Akande And Treys Top CSU: Susan Lester and Lade Akande combined for 51 points and 26 rebounds and the Bulldogs tied a season-high with 10 three-pointers as Butler cruised to a 77-55 victory over host Cleveland State on March 1. Lester tallied a career-best 29 points and added 13 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the year, and Akande chipped in 22 points and a season-best 13 rebounds for her fourth double-double. The Butler offense fired on all cylinders, hitting a season-high 53.8 percent from the field (28-for-52) while holding the Vikings to just 34.6 percent (18-for-52).

Lester Nabs First Weekly Honor: After leading the Bulldogs in scoring and on the glass while helping Butler to a pair of crucial league victories, sophomore forward Susan Lester was named the Horizon League's Women's Basketball Player of the Week on March 3. Lester averaged a team-best 20.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest in wins at Youngstown State (Feb. 28) and Cleveland State (March 1).

Stop `Em At 64: Including their 77-55 win over Cleveland State on March 1, the Bulldogs are 16-0 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 28 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged over six points more in the second period than in the first (35.8 to 29.7). Butler has also averaged only 6.5 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.8 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 14-1 this year when heading into the locker room with a lead at the break.

Candace And Candyce: Different spellings but the same results. The Bulldogs have gotten most of their assists this year from the steady hands of guards Candace Jones and Candyce Brown. Jones, a starter in 17 games this season, leads the team with 3.1 dishes per game, while Brown, a 12-game starter, ranks third with 2.4.

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 19 victories this season, opponents have managed just 38.2 percent from the field while scoring only 57.3 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 16 or fewer turnovers in 10 of the last 13 contests, including a season-low nine against Loyola on Feb. 9. Butler currently leads the Horizon League and ranks 35th in the country with 15.3 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 fourth in the conference with 9.5 steals per game, including double-figure pick totals in eight of the last nine contests.

...And Making Them Pay: Butler has used its opponents' miscues to its advantage this year, averaging 17.2 points off turnovers per game, including 11 games with 20 or more points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have only allowed 14.2 points per game resulting from turnovers. In fact, 26.3 percent (481-of-1,832) of Butler's points have come off turnovers.

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 at Cleveland State on Saturday, the Robinson, Ill., moved past Sarah Schuetz (1,320) into eighth-place with 1,334 points in her career. Former teammate Jackie Closser is next up, just nine points away in seventh with 1,343. Akande became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points on Dec. 6 against Evansville.

Have A Good Year: Lade Akande is on pace to have the best scoring season of her career. Her 456 points scored so far this year is the seventh-most in Butler history and three points behind Julie VonDielingen's sixth-place total (459). She is also just 14 points shy of her own fifth-place freshman total (470).

In Elite Company: Lade Akande not only ranks among the top 10 all-time in scoring but she is also fourth on the Butler charts with 110 career blocks. In fact, with 562 career rebounds, she is 38 boards shy of becoming just the fourth Bulldog player ever with over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career.

Next In Line?: After a 29-point effort at Cleveland State, sophomore Susan Lester brought her career scoring total to 653 points, which is second most among Butler's active players. Her 13 rebounds against the Vikings also pushed her career total to an even 400.

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 currently ranks second in all of the NCAA Division-I with a 3.04 A/T ratio and is just four-hundredths of a point behind leader Kristi Cirone of Illinois State (3.08). 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 3.0 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 16.3 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and 11th in the conference with 13.1 points to her credit.

Learning On The Fly: Freshmen guards Brittany Bowen and Azjah Bass have been vital to the Bulldogs' success in their first collegiate seasons, especially during league play. The two newcomers rank third and fifth on the team in conference scoring, respectively, with Bowen averaging 7.2 points per game and Bass adding 5.6. Included in the figures are a career-best 20 points scored by Bowen against UIC on Feb. 7 and a career-high 18 points from Bass at Wright State on Jan. 26.

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 24th in the Division-I rankings with a .559 field goal percentage (193-for-345).

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 conference with 7.2 boards per game, has posted nine or more rebounds on 11 occasions and boasts a team-best eight 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: With at least a No. 6 seed in the tournament locked up, the Bulldogs will start their bid for a Horizon League Tournament Championship in the quarterfinals on Wednesday (March 12). Butler's final seeding, the site of the game and its opponent won't be finalized until after Saturday's (March 8) games are played.