Butler Opens WNIT On Thursday At Duquesne

Butler Opens WNIT On Thursday At Duquesne

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Butler (19-11) at Duquesne (20-11)
2009 Women's National Invitation Tournament
First Round
Thursday, March 19 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Palumbo Center - Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Opening Tip: Butler makes its first appearance in the post season since 1998 on Thursday (March 19), as the Bulldogs kick off the 2009 WNIT against Duquesne beginning at 7:00 p.m. at Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Butler will try for its 20th win of the season against a Dukes team that went 11-3 at home during the regular season.

Welcome To The Post-Season: The Bulldogs' appearance in the WNIT this year will be the program's first trip to post-season play since the 1997-98 campaign, when Butler finished the Horizon League season with a league-best 13-1 record before falling to second-place Green Bay in the conference title game. They entered the WNIT with a 24-5 on the year and defeated Bowling Green in the first round before falling to LSU in the second round.

20/20 Vision: A victory in the WNIT against Duquesne would be the Bulldogs' 20th win of the season while giving them back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time since Butler scored 21 victories in both 1994-95 and 1995-96.

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 Bulldog rolled to 14 wins during the Horizon League season by holding their opponents to 50 or fewer points in 11 games. Strong defense has been the critical element to the team's success this year, as 16 of the Bulldogs' 19 wins on the year have come by holding their opponents to less than 60 points. Sophomore guard Brittany Bowen paces the team on offense with 11.0 points per game thanks to a team-best 48 three-pointers. A trio of dominant post players have been vital to the team's success, as senior Lade Akande (10.4 points, 5.6 rebounds) and juniors Susan Lester (10.1, 6.0) and Melanie Thornton (9.9, 7.2) have been among the team's top scorers and rebounders all season. Sophomore Terra Burns (2.5 assists) and senior Candyce Brown (1.8) are two of the team's best helpers and provide strong perimeter defense. The Butler bench, meanwhile, has played a critical role during the season, as the Bulldogs' reserves have out-scored their foes' by an average of over 10 points per game.

A Look At The Dukes: Duquesne enters the first round of the WNIT with a 20-11 overall record after falling in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 Tournament to Charlotte, 81-57, on March 7. Prior to that, the Dukes had won nine of their previous 10 contests. Senior guard Kristi Little leads the squad with 15.0 points and 4.7 assists per game, while junior guards Kerri Pryor (11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds) and Rachel Frederick (8.1, 5.3), as well as sophomore forward Samantha Pollino (11.1, 5.2), are among the top scorers and rebounders on the team.

The Series Against Duquesne: Butler and Duquesne will be meeting for the fourth time in women's basketball, with the Bulldogs holding a 3-0 lead in the all-time series. The two programs met all three times during the 1992-93 season, when the Dukes were a member of the Horizon League (then the Midwestern Collegiate Conference).

Record Year: Butler's 14-4 league record is the program's best conference mark since 1997-98, while the 14 wins are tied for the most in school history with the 1992-93 squad, which went 14-2 under head coach Paulette Stein.

Milwaukee Rallies To Top Butler: A 10-point Butler lead in the final minutes of the second half quickly turned to dust, as No. 7 seeded Milwaukee rode an improbable 11-0 run in the last three-and-a-half minutes to stun the host Bulldogs, 53-52, in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship on March 11 evening at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Leading 52-42 with 3:30 to go in the second half, Butler appeared to be in prime position to pick up its 20th win of the season and advance to the semifinals of the league tournament. Milwaukee had other ideas, however, as Lindsay Laur scored five of the last 11 points of the game to help the Panthers rally for the incredible win. Brittany Bowen led the Bulldogs with 19 points.

1,000 On The Radar: With 971 career points, junior Susan Lester has a chance to become the 20th player in school history with 1,000 career points this season, needing just 29 points to attain the mark.

...But That's Not All: Susan Lester's career scoring total is not the only statistic will have her listed among the best in program history. She recently moved into 10th-place all-time with 599 career rebounds and also ranks seventh with 113 three-pointers made.

All Alone At No. 2: The Bulldogs finished the regular season alone in second place with a 14-4 conference record. The second-place standing is the team's best out-right finish since the 1997-98 team finished as the league's regular season champion. The 2006-07 squad ended up tied with UIC for the second spot.

Defensive Recognition: After concluding a break-out regular season in which she ranked in among the best in the Horizon League in steals, blocks and defensive rebounds, Butler junior forward Melanie Thornton was named to the conference's All-Defensive Team. The Carmel, Ind., native wrapped up a 2008-09 campaign in which she ranked second in the league with 5.3 defensive rebounds per game, third with 1.2 blocked shots per contest and sixth with 2.3 steals per game. Her 7.3 rebounds, 67 steals and 36 blocks lead the squad, while her 10.1 points are the fourth-most.

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 36th in the NCAA in scoring defense (56.0 ppg) as well as second in the conference in opponent field goal percentage (38.7 percent).

Keep It Under 60: The Bulldogs are 16-3 this season when they hold their opponent to fewer than 60 points.

...But 50 Is Better: Butler is 14-0 on the year and 11-0 in league play when it holds opponents to 50 or fewer points.

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.

Bowen To No One: Brittany Bowen has been Butler's top offensive player in the last 22 games, leading the team with 13.3 points per contest on 50.5 percent shooting from the field (97-for-192), 47.8 percent from three-point range (43-for-90) and 90.2 percent from the free throw line (55-of-61). 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 and eight rebounds. Since then, she has recorded 17 double-figure scoring games - including two with 20 or more points.

You're Number Two: With 1,672 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 is pretty much 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 741 career rebounds, Lade Akande sits alone in fifth place on the Bulldogs' career rebounding chart. She'll need 33 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.

Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler is 16-1 on the year when leading 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.

Century Mark: The Bulldogs' win over UIC on Feb. 12 gave head coach Beth Couture her 100th victory at Butler. Her 104 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 104-102 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 362-219 (.623) record in her 20th season of coaching between both Butler and Presbyterian College.

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 25.4 points in the opening period - the second-lowest mark in the league - and has held nine opponents to 20 or fewer first-half points, including seven 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 14-5 start to 2009), the Bulldogs boast a remarkable 50-26 record (.658) 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: A deep bench has been critical to the Bulldogs' success this year. The Butler bench has out-scored its opponents' reserves by a staggering 303 point margin (710 to 407) for an average of over 10 more points per game (23.7 to 13.6). In fact, Butler's bench has out-scored its opponents' in all but four games this season, while the Bulldogs' leading scorer in 12 of 30 games has been a reserve.

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 15.7 turnovers per game, including season-low nine at IPFW on Nov. 18. The Bulldogs' average puts them at the top of the league standings and 50th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game, while their +3.6 turnover margin is second in the conference and 39th in the nation.

Battle-Tested: The Bulldogs played 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 won four of the meetings during the regular slate, topping CSU twice (55-46 and 68-59) as well as Evansville (70-52) and Miami (86-81, 2OT).

Post Presence: The Bulldogs are 12-3 on the season and 7-0 in league play when at least two members of their post trio of senior Lade Akande and juniors Susan Lester and Melanie Thornton finish with double-figure point totals.

Taking Advantage Of Charity: Butler is 18-1 on the season when it equals or tops its opponent's output from the free throw line, including a perfect 13-0 mark in league play.

Charitable Efforts: Brittany Bowen finished the regular season as the Horizon League leader with a .898 free throw percentage in conference play, hitting 44 of her 49 attempts from the line. She currently boasts a team-best .855 (59-for-69) mark on the season.

Quite A Year: Melanie Thornton has put together a year to remember. Her 298 points, 216 rebounds and 70 steals through 30 games this year have already well surpassed her career totals in her 55 games combined as a freshman and sophomore (176, 141, 21). Her 7.3 rebounds per game are tops on the team, while her 10.1 points per contest are the fourth 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 four categories, including second place in defensive boards and third place marks in blocks and total rebounds.

What Can Brown Do For You?: It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the Bulldogs are an impressive 15-5 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 led the Bulldogs with 28.9 minutes played during the Horizon League season.

Making Her Point: In just her second season, sophomore 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 22 games this season - the first of her career - and has been the Butler starter at the one-guard in 19 of the last 20 contests. She has averaged a team-high 2.5 assists per game and boasts 5.8 points per contest.

Dominating The League Stats: As if the 14-4 league record wasn't indicative enough. The Bulldogs ranked among the top-three in the league in a total of 10 conference-only statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounds and blocks.

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.

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. 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, 11 of Butler's 18 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: A win over Duquesne would send the Bulldogs into the second round, where they would take on Marquette in Milwaukee, Wis. The date and time of the game is still to be determined.