Nov. 5, 2008
The Bulldogs are on a mission.
The concept is quite simple: On the final day of the season, be in a position to compete for the Horizon League Championship.
The reality is never as simple, however, and the Bulldogs found that out first-hand last season. Butler headed into the 2008 league tournament with loads of promise after posting 20 wins during the regular season for the first time in a decade. That promise ended in a flash, as eventual tournament champion Cleveland State stopped the Bulldogs' quest in the quarterfinals.
From that defeat last season comes a hunger that drives the Butler women's basketball team as it enters the 2008-09 campaign.
The team has adopted a new philosophy for this season: No Excuses, No Explanations. Maintain the tradition of winning for Butler Women's Basketball, accept the responsibility that comes with being a contender for the league championship and embrace the idea of participating in a post-season tournament.
With four seniors, five starters and over 90 percent of its scoring, rebounding and assists returning from that 20-win season, this year's Bulldogs have the leadership, experience and depth to meet that challenge head on and give them a legitimate chance to be playing for the coveted league championship trophy on the final day.
Plenty of challenges lie ahead, though, as Butler will face as many as nine teams that reached post season play last year as well as an increasingly competitive Horizon League slate.
"The league has gotten better and better every year I have been here at Butler, and this season is no exception," said head coach Beth Couture, who enters her seventh season at the helm. "Just about anybody has a realistic shot at winning it.
"We do feel very fortunate though to have four experienced seniors returning with a lot of time in our system, who have seen our program grow but are still hungry," she added. "They want to lead us as we strive for a league championship. They are really motivated to do what they can to make sure we are competing for a league championship at the end of the year."
The Bulldogs will have the bulk of their experience and depth on the perimeter, with three of the team's four seniors, seven of the 11 returning letterwinners and both active newcomers.
Senior co-captain Candace Jones is the squad's top option at the point. She enters the 2008-09 campaign as the Bulldogs' active leader in assists with 181 in her career and is third in both points (478) and rebounds (253). Her 1,734 career minutes played are also the second-most among returning players. She finished the 2007-08 season ranked eighth in the Horizon League with a 1.18 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"CJ brings great experience in the back court to our team," Couture said. "She saw the majority of her playing time at the point last year, but she could also see time at the two or the three. She can hit the three, can get in the paint to create her own shot or shots for others and is an excellent passer with great court vision."
Fellow senior and co-captain Candyce Brown is a staunch defender and provides the Bulldogs with their most athletic presence on the outside. She led the perimeter players with 43 steals last season and showed signs of developing her offensive game, averaging 4.2 points per contest and ranking third on the squad with 2.4 assists per game. Her passing prowess showed itself in league play, as she finished the year ranked fourth in the conference with a 1.48 assist-to-turnover ratio in league contests.
"Candyce is the best perimeter defender on the team," Couture remarked. "With her experience last year, she has become an offensive threat as well who can knock down the jumper and get into the hole. One of her best qualities, however, is her leadership on the floor."
When it came to passing last season, there weren't many players in the Horizon League or in the nation who could compete with Tara Miller. The senior guard finished her first full season with the Bulldogs ranked second in all of Division I with a 2.84 assist-to-turnover ratio (88 assists to just 31 turnovers). Her 3.2 assists per game in league contests also led the team and were the 10th-most in the conference.
"Tara is a very physical guard who loves to do the little things," Couture explained. "She takes a lot of pride in playing well on both ends of the floor. She defends and rebounds well, is a strong passer and has gained a lot more confidence with her three-point shot."
In addition to a strong senior contingent on the outside, the Bulldogs will also tout a trio of second-year players in Azjah Bass, Brittany Bowen and Terra Burns who will be ready to step into more significant roles.
Bass saw action in all 30 games and earned starts in 11 during her rookie season, ranking sixth on the team with 4.8 points per contest. She registered double-figure point totals in five games, including a season-high 18 at Wright State, and finished fourth on the team with 1.5 assists per game.
"Azjah has shown a lot of confidence with her year of experience," Couture said. "She can score off the dribble and from outside the three-point line, is a solid perimeter defender and a confident ball handler. She is also a leader when she is on the floor and will compete for the starting point guard position."
Like Bass, Bowen showed flashes of brilliance in her initial season with the Bulldogs last year. A starter in all but three of the team's games in 2007-08, she ranked fourth on the team with 6.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while notching nine double-figure scoring contests, including a season-best 20 at UIC. She was also one of the team's most accurate shooters, hitting 45.6 percent from the field and pacing the squad with a 38.5 percent efficiency from beyond the arc.
"Brittany has shown a lot more confidence with her experience," Couture said. "She brings physical strength to the guard position. She is a great offensive rebounder, a solid three-point shooter and can get to the hole and score with her left or right hand, which is one of her biggest strengths."
Burns brings an adaptable option to the guard position after appearing in 16 contests last year. Despite a mid-season injury, she was able to provide an athletic defensive presence on the perimeter, totaling eight steals while averaging just over four minutes per game.
"Terra is a versatile player who can play any of the guard positions," Couture explained. "Her quickness allows her to be a great on ball defender and she does a good job of passing off the move and creating shots for other players. She has also greatly improved her jump shot."
The Butler perimeter will have the additional benefit of two talented and decorated newcomers who will provide depth off the bench.
Devin Brierly, a 5-9 guard from Hanover, Ind., was a McDonald's All-America nominee as a senior at Southwestern High School. The three-time team MVP and captain was named to the all-region team three times and all-sectional squad four times. She was mentioned as a Hoosier Basketball Magazine Indiana Top-60 player and finished her four-year playing career as the fourth-leading scorer in school history with 1,278 points.
"Devin fits really well into our system," Couture said. "She is a solid ball handler, has confidence with her jump shot and is an athletic defender. She's quick as lightning!"
Kaley May, a 5-11 guard from Avon, Ind., was also a McDonald's All-America nominee as a senior while playing at Avon High School. The four-year starter earned Hoosier Basketball Magazine First Team All-State honors as well as IBCA First Team Academic All-State recognition. She finished her career listed in the school's record book 11 times, including top career marks for points, rebounds, blocked shots, three-point percentage and games played.
"Kaley is strong on offensive fundamentals," Couture said. "She is good off the dribble, can hit the three and is a solid rebounder."
Dominant post presence will once again be key to the Bulldogs' success in 2008-09. Butler returns its dynamic duo of senior Lade Akande and junior Susan Lester, who were both mentioned on the Preseason All-Horizon League Team.
Akande, who became the 18th player in Butler history with 1,000 points last year, enters her senior season as the team's active leader in points (1,360), rebounds (573), blocks (111), steals (105) and minutes played (2,382). A three-time All-Horizon League honoree, she has notched 14 double-doubles in her career and is 27 rebounds shy of becoming just the fourth Butler player ever to total 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks in her career. She finished the 2007-08 campaign ranked fourth in the league with 16.1 points per game and sixth with 6.4 rebounds per contest.
"Lade's numbers speak for themselves," Couture said. "She is just an exceptional back to the basket player who always finds a way to score. She has also become a much more solid passer in addition to being a strong shot blocker and rebounder."
Lester provides a formidable compliment to Akande, bringing a powerful inside game as well as a deadly outside shot. She finished last season as the league's second-best rebounder with 7.3 boards per contest and ranked in the top-10 in three-pointers made and three-point percentage. The team's second-leading active scorer and rebounder with 668 points and 418 rebounds, her 18 double-doubles in two seasons are the most among returning players, as are her 20 double-digit rebounding games.
"Susan has worked hard in the off-season to improve her physical strength," Couture explained. "She is an outstanding three point shooter and can score with her back to the basket. She also passes really well for a post player."
Junior Melanie Thornton brings a quick and athletic presence to the post. An accurate shooter, she hit 51 percent of her shots from the field (26-of-51) to finish second on the team and added five blocks and 15 steals. She took advantage of her limited playing time on offense, averaging 19.7 points per 40 minutes played which ranked as the second-best rate on the squad.
"Mel is healthy and in great shape," Couture commented. "She runs the floor hard, can score outside and inside and is a great post defender. She will fight for playing time at both post positions."
Second-year player Chloe Hamilton makes the transition from a perimeter player to the post for the 2008-09 season. The 5-10 forward saw action in 21 games during her rookie campaign - including the first start of her career - and averaged 1.3 points per contest.
"Chloe will cause match-up problems for opponents because of her shift to the post," Couture explained. "She rebounds hard, can hit the three and is very sold at driving to the basket."
Junior center Amie Kabara and redshirt freshman Jenny Ostrom will add depth to the post position. Couture expects both players to benefit from the experience they gained from practicing and playing last season.
"Amie is a real hard worker with a great attitude," Couture said, "and Jenny is a very skilled post player who can hit the open jump shot and has solid back to the basket moves. Both players have benefited from their season with the team last year."
A Thanksgiving trip to New Mexico, non-conference games against five Hoosier State schools and an always exciting Horizon League campaign highlight the 2008-09 Butler women's basketball schedule. The challenging 29-game regular season slate will pit the Bulldogs against as many as nine opponents that advanced to post-season competition last year.
"We're really excited about the challenge ahead of playing so many talented teams that went on to play in the postseason last year," Couture said. "Our non-conference schedule should give us a good test for what could be the most exciting and competitive Horizon League season since I have been at Butler."