Oct. 30, 2006
Fans can get their first look at the Butler women's basketball team in action this Tuesday (Oct. 31) when the Bulldogs take on the Hoosier Lady Stars beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
2006-07 Butler Women's Basketball Outlook and Notes
Armed and Dangerous
Led by two of the most prolific three-point shooters in school history, the Bulldogs have their sights aimed high for the Horizon League Championship.
The 2005-06 Butler women's basketball season came to an end at the Horizon League Championship, as the Bulldogs fell to eventual champion UW-Milwaukee in the final seconds of a semifinal game on March 5. The eight Butler players who appeared in that contest had been the driving force behind the team's success that season, responsible for nearly all of the offense on the 15-14 team.
Over eight months after that season-ending game, the Bulldogs will take the floor at Illinois on Nov. 12 to open up the 2006-07 season, and all eight of those crucial players will once again be hitting the hardwood.
Including 2006 Horizon League Preseason First Team members senior Jackie Closser and sophomore Lade Akande, the returning octet accounted for nearly 95 percent of 2005-06 team's scoring, 84 percent of its rebounding, 84 percent of its assists and every one of its three-pointers made. This seasoned corps of players, coupled with four talented newcomers and an energetic coaching staff, has the Bulldogs thinking about ending this year's Horizon League Championship by cutting down the nets on the final day.
Head coach Beth Couture, now in her fifth season as the Bulldogs' mentor, sees great potential and confidence in this season's squad.
"With the eight players we have returning, we won't have to learn how to play with each other," Couture said. "Our strength will be in our mind-set. We feel good about last season and have a chance to do even better this year."
The Butler backcourt has rarely been a concern for the Bulldogs during Couture's tenure, and this season's lineup could feature the most potent of them all. Seniors Closser (890 career points) and Ellen Hamilton (885) enter their final campaigns on pace to become the 17th and 18th players in school history to reach 1,000 career points. The tandem was downright deadly from beyond the arc last season, with Closser (84) and Hamilton (69) recording the two highest single-season three-point totals in school history and among the best in the nation in 2005-06.
Closser, a team captain for the second-straight season, is already the school record holder with 186 three-pointers made, thanks in part to her hitting at least one trey in each of her 28 games played last season. She paced the conference with 3.0 three-pointers per game and was also tops with 5.21 assists per game, a .867 free throw percentage and a 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio. For the second straight season, she saw over 1,000 minutes of playing time, finishing with the third-highest total in school history (1,072).
"Jackie is our floor leader," Couture said. "She is our rock, our steady force. We go the way that she goes, which is why she was our MVP last season."
Hamilton was just as deadly when it came to her shooting totals from beyond the arc, with her 46.6 percent made from downtown tops in the league and the fifth-highest mark in the NCAA. She finished third on the team and 11th in the league with 12.3 ppg and played 887 minutes, second only to Closser.
"Ellen is the best three-point shooter on the team when it comes to consistency," Couture said. "She has become much more physically stronger in the off-season, which will only help her game."
Sophomore Candace Jones will vie for playing time both at the point and shooting guard positions after averaging 4.3 points per game in 2005-06. She paced the team from the free-throw line, hitting 89.4 percent (42-of-47) and was the leading scorer off the bench in eight games.
"Candace is a versatile perimeter player who could play guard or forward," Couture commented. "She is capable of hitting the three as well as driving to the basket."
The backcourt will also have added depth from newcomer Julie Seiss. A McDonald's All-American candidate while playing at Warsaw High School, she earned all-state honors as a sophomore, junior and senior.
"Julie is a very athletic perimeter player," Couture said. "Because of that, she has the potential to become a great defender."
Sophomore Candyce Brown saw significant playing time at small forward in her first season last year and should continue to do so in 2006-07. She settled into the starting role at the end of the season, earning the nod in six of the last seven games, and averaged 29.5 minutes during that span.
"Candyce is the team's best perimeter defender," Couture said. "We're counting on her to bring some more offense to her game in addition to her strong defensive presence."
Brown will be challenged for playing time by transfer Tara Miller, who will become eligible following the fall semester after transferring from Indiana University. She was ranked among the state's leading scorers while playing at North Harrison High School, averaging 19.6 points, 6.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 4.2 steals per game.
"Tara is our strongest and most physical perimeter player," Couture said. "She is a scorer. She shoots the three and can get to the hole." Freshman Mel Thornton could also see playing time at small forward. Ranked among Indiana's top-100 players in 2004 and 2005 while playing at Carmel High School, Thornton was named to both the Indiana Junior All-Star and Indiana All-North Team in 2005.
"Mel is a very athletic forward," Couture said. "She will provide us with outside shooting, quickness to the bucket and rebounding ability."
Junior Cassie Freeman returns as the Bulldogs' starting power forward. She ranked third in the Horizon League with a 45.5 three-point percentage last season and was the only post player ranked among the league's top 15 in that category. She also finished third on the team and 16th in the league with 4.7 rebounds per game.
"Cassie has developed into a great power forward," Couture said. "She has great outside shooting, rebounds well and does anything to make us a better team."
Senior Carla Gheorghe gave the Bulldogs a strong option at forward in her first season with the team, finishing fifth on the squad with 6.0 points and 2.6 boards per game. One of the team's most accurate shooters, Gheorghe hit 44.8 percent of her field goals, the Bulldogs' third-best mark
"Carla is an offensively skilled player," Couture said. "She will only get better as she learns the system."
Freshman Susan Lester will be relied upon for depth at both forward and the post. She was named to the Indiana All-Star team and to the North-South All-Star team while playing at Pendleton High School, where her 1,770 career points are a school record for both the women's and men's teams.
"Susan is a very skilled player," Couture commented. "She understands the game and can score from both the inside and outside."
Akande returns as the anchor of the Butler frontcourt after a tremendous freshman campaign in which she ranked second in the league with 8.0 rebounds per game and third with 16.2 points per game. Her 470 points set a Butler freshman record and are the fifth-highest single-season total in school history. She posted eight double-doubles, scored in double figures in all but five games and tallied 20 or more points 13 times.
"Lade is an explosive offensive player," Couture said. "She has worked hard in the off-season to gain comfort on the perimeter and is much improved defensively."
Junior Candace Bain will challenge for playing time both at center and power forward after seeing significant action during her sophomore season. She was the leading scorer off the bench in eight contests and shot 41.1 percent (39-95) from the field, the fourth-best mark on the team.
"Candace is a post player with excellent perimeter skills," Couture said. "She can shoot the three and is a great passer. She has increased her strength in the off-season which will give her an advantage on the boards."
The Schedule A Thanksgiving trip to Alaska, a Sunday home game against Purdue and an always challenging Horizon League slate highlight the 2006-07 schedule. Butler will host 12 regular season contests at Hinkle Fieldhouse, including eight against Horizon League foes and three versus in-state rivals. The demanding campaign will also pit the Bulldogs against six teams that advanced to postseason play in 2006.
The Bulldogs open the regular season in Champaign, Ill. on Nov. 12 against the Fighting Illini, who advanced to the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) last season, and open the home slate against Bradley on Nov. 17. Butler then hops a plane to Anchorage, Alaska for the two-day Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, where the Bulldogs will face UC-Riverside, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament a season ago, on Nov. 21 before taking on either Alaska-Anchorage or Air Force on Nov. 22.
The Bulldogs host cross-town rival IUPUI on Nov. 29 and host the Hoosier Classic on Dec. 2, as Butler battles Ball State while Valparaiso takes on Indiana State.
After a road game at Evansville (Dec. 6), the Bulldogs will take on Purdue on Dec. 10 in their final home contest until the New Year. The Boilermakers advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship last season.
Things don't get any easier for the team the following week, as Butler heads to Louisville - another NCAA Tournament participant - on Dec. 18 to begin a five-game road trip that spans three weeks and includes the Horizon League opener at Cleveland State on Dec. 28.
The Horizon League schedule will pit Butler against two more post-season participants, as the Bulldogs host UW-Green Bay, a WNIT participant last season, on Jan. 25 and Horizon League Champion UW-Milwaukee on Jan. 27.
The season concludes at home with games against Youngstown State on March 1 and Cleveland State on March 3. The contest against the Vikings will also serve as Senior Day, with Closser, Hamilton and Gheorghe being honored in pre-game ceremonies.
The Horizon League Championship begins with the No. 9 seed taking on the No. 8 seed on March 5, quarterfinals on March 7, semifinals on March 9 and championship game on March 11.
"We have a very competitive non-conference slate," Couture said. "We open up with some tough competition on the road with Illinois and Louisville. Purdue is going to be a big game at home. We also are going to renew some in-state rivalries with Ball State, Evansville and IUPUI.
"The Horizon League has become more and more competitive each year I have been here," Couture added, "and I expect this season to be no different. The non-conference schedule is going to be crucial to our preparation for the conference season."
Bulldogs Tabbed Third: The Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the Horizon League this season in a poll of the league's coaches, sports information directors and media. Butler tallied 192 points in the poll, including one first-place vote, and finished just six points behind second-place UW-Milwaukee (198). UW-Green Bay was selected to win the regular season title, receiving 234 points and 22 of the 27 voters' first-place ballots.
Doubling-Up The First Team: Senior Jackie Closser and sophomore Lade Akande were both mentioned among the Horizon League's finest as members of the 2006-07 Preseason All-League First Team. Butler was the only school to have multiple players mentioned on the five-player team.
Three Times The Leadership: Senior guards Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton and junior forward Cassie Freeman were named team captains for the 2006-07 season. Closser returns as a second-year captain after receiving the honor as a junior, while Freeman and Hamilton earned the distinctions by a vote of the Butler players. The trio combined for 183 of the team's 223 three-pointers in 2005-06 and provide leadership both vocally and in their play.
Back For More: The Bulldogs return nearly 95 percent of their scoring from last season in their eight returning players. The octet also combined to nail down every one of the team's 223 three-pointers last year.
The Race To 1,000: Seniors Jackie Closser and Ellen Hamilton sit on the verge of becoming just the 17th and 18th players in Butler history to score 1,000 points in their careers. The two players stand just over 100 points away from the standard, with Closser totalling 890 during her career and Hamilton notching 885 in her three seasons. With just a five-point gap separating the two at the start of the season, the race to 1,000 will likely be a photo-finish.
Triple Team: Butler was the undisputed champion in the Horizon League when it came to hitting shots from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs' 223 three-pointers-made paced the league and was the fifth-highest total in the NCAA. Additionally, the squad's league-leading .393 three-point percentage was the eighth-best rate in the nation and set a Butler single-season record.
Spark From The Arc:Closser was a major reason for the Bulldogs' success from three-point land in 2005-06, as the 5-5 guard shattered her own Butler single-season mark with 84 three-pointers. Her total not only paced the team and the league but was the fourth-highest yearly mark in Horizon League history. She finished the season ranked sixth in the NCAA in three-point field goals made, averaging 3.0 per game.
A Little Bit Of Help: Closser was not the only Bulldog lighting it up from downtown last season. Hamilton's 69 treys in 2005-06 was the second-highest single-season total in school history. Additionally, her 46.6 percent-made paced the league and was the fifth-highest mark in the NCAA.
Lade To Remember: Lade Akande got off to a torrid start in her collegiate career as a freshman last season, leading the Bulldogs in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). Her 470 points were also the fifth-highest total in school history and the most ever for a freshman.
Posting-Up From Downtown: Junior forward Cassie Freeman finished third in the Horizon League in three-point percentage last season, knocking down 45.5 percent. In fact, she was the only post player ranked among the league's top 15 three-point shooters.
Court And Classroom Presence: Jackie Closser was recognized as a 2006 CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District selection, earning a spot on the women's basketball District V Second Team. The team was chosen by voting members of the College Sports Information Directors of America and was based on both athletic and academic performance from a list of nominated student-athletes who held at least sophomore status, a minimum grade point average of 3.2 and were starters or key reserves on their team.
75 And Alive: Seventy-five points was apparently all it took for Butler to ensure a victory last season. The Bulldogs sported a perfect 8-0 mark in 2005-06 when they tallied 75 points or more in a game.
Get Ahead And Stay Ahead: Butler also had a knack for holding on for wins after leading at halftime. The Bulldogs touted a 12-2 record when they were ahead at the break.
Don't Let It Get To You: The Bulldogs were fairly resilient when it came to bouncing back from a defeat. Butler held a 9-4 record in games that followed a loss, which was a big reason why the Bulldogs never lost more than three consecutive games all season.