March 10, 2007

NCAA Bid On The Line As Butler Battles UW-Green Bay For Horizon League Championship

March 10, 2007

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Game 31
Butler (16-14) at No. 22 UW-Green Bay (27-3)

Date: Sunday, March 11, 2007
Time: 12:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Phoenix Sports Center (1,800) Green Bay, Wis.

Tip-Off: The Bulldogs (16-14) play for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 1995-96 season when they take on No. 22 UW-Green Bay (27-3) in the Horizon League Championship game on Sunday (March 11) beginning at 12:00 p.m. CT. Winners of nine of its last 11 games, Butler will attempt for its fifth-straight win while ending a 21-game winless skid to the Phoenix, who enter the championship contest with a 24-game winning streak. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN-U.

So We Meet Again: The Bulldogs and Phoenix have quite a history in the Horizon League tournament. Butler claimed its first and only title game victory over the Phoenix in 1996, topping UWGB 56-53. Since that time, the Phoenix have been the thorn in Butler's side in the championship, ending the Bulldogs' post-season runs on six difference occasions, most recently in the 2004 tournament.

Strong To The Finish: The Bulldogs have played some of their best basketball in the last 11 games. During that span, Butler has gone 9-2, shot 44 percent from the field, averaged 9.1 three-pointers per game and boasted a 1.2 assists-to-turnover ratio (17.1 assists to 13.7 turnovers).

The Last Time We Met: Butler picked up right where it left off in its previous game, launching a barrage of three-pointers and holding a lead for the majority of the first 30 minutes of play, but host No. 24 UW-Green Bay rallied back in the final 10 minutes to come away with an 84-70 victory in the Phoenix Sports Center on Feb. 24. Fresh-off sinking a school-record 15 three-pointers at UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 22, Butler opened the floodgates once more against the Phoenix, hitting 11 triples, but was unable to hang on down the stretch, as UW-Green Bay used a 15-2 run midway through the second to pull away for the win.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler (16-14) continues through the Horizon League Championship as the No. 3 seed after winning six of its last seven games, including a dramatic 88-83 overtime win over No. 2 seed UIC. The Bulldogs have used the three-pointer as a large part of their scoring, with over 35 percent (247-of-697) of their field goals coming from downtown and their 8.2 treys per game ranking fourth in the NCAA Division I. Senior guards Jackie Closser (14.3 ppg) and Ellen Hamilton (8.0 ppg) have each eclipsed 1,000 points in their careers this season and rank in the top-five in the Horizon League in three pointers per game. Sophomore center Lade Akande adds a strong inside presence, averaging 14.5 ppg, while freshman post Susan Lester leads the team with 6.7 rpg. Sophomore guard Tara Miller provides an all-around boost with 7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 3.5 apg, while junior forward Cassie Freeman adds a long-range threat from the post position with a .356 three-point percentage. Candyce Brown and Candace Jones provide depth on the perimeter, while forwards Candace Bain and Mel Thornton are the top post options off the bench. Head coach Beth Couture (323-197) is in her fifth season with the Bulldogs.

Bulldogs Hang On For Overtime Thriller Against UIC: Susan Lester hit a clutch go-ahead three-pointer in overtime and Jackie Closser went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the extra period as Butler hung on for an 88-83 victory over UIC in the Horizon League Championship semifinals at the Phoenix Sports Center on March 9. UIC gave the Bulldogs a fight to the end, erasing an 18-point first-half deficit and forcing overtime on a Jessie Miller game-tying three-pointer with three seconds on the clock before Lester's trey and Closser's charity stripe heroics gave the Bulldogs the decision. Closser led the squad with 25 points, including 11 in overtime and a 12-for-12 mark from the free throw line. Lester posted her ninth double-double with 20 points and 14 boards, while Lade Akande (20 points) and Candace Jones (11) finished in double figures.

A Long Time Coming: The Bulldogs' win over UIC not only gave Butler its first trip to the championship game in over a decade but ends a seven-game winless streak against the Flames. The Bulldogs' last win prior to the semifinal decision came via a 67-50 victory on Feb. 21, 2004.

...But It's Been Even Longer: A win over UW-Green Bay in the championship game would not only end its current 24-game winning streak but halt a 21-game winless streak by the Bulldogs against the Phoenix. Butler's last win over UWGB came on Jan. 9, 1999, with the Bulldogs claiming an 85-80 win at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Moving Up In The World: The Bulldogs have steadily improved under the tutelage of head coach Beth Couture, and this season has been the finest yet. The 16 wins gives the Bulldogs their highest single-season total since the 1998-99 squad finished at 17-11. Additionally, Butler's 11 wins in Horizon League play are the most during Couture's tenure, while the second-place finish is the highest final standing since the 1997-98 season.

National Attention: The Bulldogs are currently listed in the NCAA Division-I Top-50 in five categories. As a team, Butler ranks fourth in the NCAA with 8.2 three-pointers made per game. The Bulldogs also place 25th with a 36.1 three-point percentage and 33rd in fewest turnovers with 14.9 per game. Meanwhile, senior guard Jackie Closser finds herself mentioned in two categories, ranking tied for 19th with 2.6 treys per game and 25th with an 85.2 free throw percentage.

Just Off The Charts: Ellen Hamilton's leads the Bulldogs with a 39.6 three-point percentage, but she is just short of the NCAA minimum of 2.0 makes per game to qualify for the Division I rankings. If her figures did count, she would rank 24th.

Numbers Game: The Bulldogs are 9-1 against Horizon League teams this year when leading at halftime and 11-2 when they score more three-pointers than league foes. Free throws and turnovers have been key as well, as Butler is 11-2 in league play when out-scoring its opponent from the line and 8-2 when committing fewer turnovers.

All-League Honors: Three Bulldogs earned All-Horizon League honors this season. Senior guard Jackie Closser earned her second-career all-league first team mention, while sophomore center Lade Akande was named to the all-league second team for the second time in her career. Meanwhile, freshman forward Susan Lester was tabbed to the league's all-newcomer team.

Time Is On Your Side: Jackie Closser wouldn't have had it any other way. Needing just 11 minutes against Cleveland State on Senior Day to become the Bulldogs' all-time leader in minutes played, Closser went all out against the Vikings, playing the full 40 minutes for the seventh time this season and handily claiming the all-time mark. She currently touts 3,713 minutes in her four years with Butler.

Double Trouble: Freshman Susan Lester has been nearly unstoppable at times this year, especially of late. In Butler's last 13 contests, she has averaged 14.1 points and 9.5 rebounds while notching eight double-doubles. Her nine double-doubles this season are the second-most in the Horizon League this season and are the most for a freshman. She has led the Bulldogs in rebounding 16 times this year, and 6.7 rebounds per game pace the squad and are the third most in the league.

Keeping it Going: With her three makes from three-point range against UIC on March 9, Jackie Closser extended her streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer to 58 in a row. Her trek is the longest active streak in the NCAA and is only two shy of the Division I record of 60. However, the Bulldogs will need to advance to post-season play for Closser to play in enough games to reach the mark. Meanwhile, her 78 makes from downtown are the second-highest single season total in school history and are six short of her own school-record 84, set last season.

Getting There In A Hurry: Not too many Butler players have had better starts to their careers than Lade Akande. The Robinson, Ill. native was unstoppable on offense in her first season with the team in 2005-06, finishing with 470 points for the highest total in school history by a freshman. She has continued to be one of the Bulldogs' top scorers this year, tallying 406 points for 876 in her career. With just 124 points to 1,000, Akande could become the first Butler player since Jennifer Marlow (1998-99) to reach the milestone in under four years.

Crime Prevention: Opponents have had a rather difficult time attempting to pick the pockets of the Butler players this season. The Bulldogs have yielded 14.9 turnovers per game this year, the second-fewest in the Horizon League and the 33rd-fewest in the nation. Butler also ranks second in the league in assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.0. In fact, the Bulldogs have allowed no more than 14 miscues in 11 of their last 15 games, while their six turnovers against Air Force on Nov. 22 remains the lowest single-game total in the Horizon League this season.

The Tara Miller Effect: It might be pure coincidence, but things have turned for the better ever since sophomore guard Tara Miller became eligible to play. Since dropping a closely-contested battle to No. 16 Louisville in Miller's first game, Butler has won 14 of its last 20 games and has averaged over 14 points more per game (58.7 to 73.2). Meanwhile, Butler has gone from being out-scored by nearly 15 points per game to holding over a 5.1 point edge on its foes. Miller has provided a spark in just about every aspect of the game during that time, averaging 7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Minute Minder: Jackie Closser must really enjoy time-outs, because she doesn't get too many other opportunities to catch her breath. The senior guard has played fewer than 35 minutes only three times this year and has played 40 or more minutes in eight. In fact, her 30 minutes played at UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 22 and at Youngstown State on Dec. 30 are tied for her shortest outings of the season. She currently leads the Horizon League with 37.0 minutes per game.

Triple Threat: The Bulldogs have been nearly unstoppable from three-point range this season. Butler leads the Horizon League and is fourth in the NCAA with 8.2 three-pointers made per game while ranking second in the league with a .361 three-point percentage.

Closser And Hamilton Lead the Way: Senior guards Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton have led the way for the Bulldogs from downtown this season. Closser leads the team and is second in the Horizon League with 2.6 makes per game, while Hamilton has hit 1.9 per game for fifth place in the conference.

Accuracy Counts: Ellen Hamilton, Jackie Closser, Susan Lester and Cassie Freeman have each made the most of their attempts from long distance. Hamilton leads the team and is sixth in the Horizon League with a .396 three-point percentage (57-of-144), while Closser checks in at 12th in the conference at .366 (78-of-213). Lester and Freeman, meanwhile, are the only post players ranked among the league's top 15, with Lester ranking 11th with a .369 percentage (31-of-84) and Freeman ranking 13th with a .356 efficiency (31-of-87).

...But Don't Forget Jones and Miller: Sophomores Candace Jones and Tara Miller have given the Bulldogs even more options for hitting the three-pointer. Jones has hit 13-of-37 from three for a .351 shooting percentage, while Miller has netted 31-of-82 (.378) in just 20 games with the team.

Akande Brings It From The Paint: It's not all about shooting from long range for the Bulldogs, as sophomore Lade Akande can attest. The 6-1 center leads the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game despite not taking a single shot from beyond the arc this year. In fact, the Robinson, Ill. native has yet to shoot for three in 56 career games. She currently leads the team and is sixth in the Horizon League with a .500 field goal percentage.

Moving On Up: After eclipsing 1,000 points in their careers this season, senior guards Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton continue to move up the Butler all-time scoring list. Closser currently touts 1,318 points in her career for eighth in the Bulldog record books and needs just three points to pass Sarah Schuetz (1,320) for seventh. Meanwhile, Hamilton ranks 14th with 1,124 and needs five to move past Nikki Anderson (1,128) for 13th. Closser became the 17th player in school history to reach 1,000 points at Louisville on Dec. 18, while Hamilton became number 18 at Cleveland State on Dec. 28.

Taking Advantage of Charity: It's not as if Jackie Closser is asking to go to the free throw line, but, when she does, she makes opponents pay. She is currently second in the league and 25th in the nation in free-throw efficiency, netting 104 of her 122 attempts for a .852 average. Closser missed only nine shots in Horizon League play this season (62-of-71) and was second with an .873 percentage. Her mark includes a pair of 12-for-12 performances, coming at Detroit on Jan. 18 and against UIC on March 9.

Hamilton Gets The Floor Time: Ellen Hamilton has been a staple on the floor for the Bulldogs and touts rare figures in terms of minutes played. The senior guard has played 3,132 minutes in her career for sixth on the all-time list after passing Cortney Urquhart (3,093).

A Little Bit Of Help: Jackie Closser has been extremely helpful to the Bulldogs on offense this season and during her career. The senior guard ranks fourth in the Horizon League with 3.8 assists per game and is fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.5. She also touts 439 assists in her career, the fifth-most in school history. Fourth place is a ways off, however, as Barb Skinner dished 509 from 1980-83. The school record of 584 was set by Melissa Kilgore from 1985-88.

...While a Lot of Help Goes A Long Way: Butler had a ton of assistance with its shooting against UW-Milwaukee on Jan. 27, as every one of the Bulldogs' season-high 31 field goals was assisted on. The 31 assists is the Horizon League's single-game standard for this season, while the 31-on-31 percentage was just one off of the NCAA Division-I single-game record of 32 assists on 32 makes, set by St. Louis in 1986.

Lester Garners Second League Honor: After posting a pair of double-doubles, Susan Lester earned her second Horizon League Player of the Week honor on March 5. She posted her sixth and seventh double-doubles of the season in helping the Bulldogs to a second-place tie in the Horizon League standings, finishing with 13 points and a career-high 14 rebounds against Youngstown State on March 1 and scoring a team-high 18 points and 11 rebounds against Cleveland State on March 3.

Raining Threes: The Bulldogs' effort from the three-point arc against UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 22 not only broke the Butler single-game record but was one of the top performances in the nation this year. The 15 makes is the most in the Horizon League this season and one shy of the league record of 16, set by UW-Green Bay on three occasions. It is also tied with six other teams for the single-game season-high in all of the NCAA Division I.

Butler Inks Quartet For 2007: High school stand-outs Azjah Bass, Terra Burns, Chloe Hamilton and Jenny Ostrom have all signed national letters of intent to attend Butler and play basketball beginning in the fall of 2007. All four have earned all-state accolades and are either approaching or have surpassed 1,000 points in their careers.

At The Buzzer: A berth in the NCAA Tournament is on the line for the Bulldogs in the Horizon League Championship game, as Butler can advance to post-season play for the first time in over a decade with a win over No. 22 UW-Green Bay.