December 26, 2007

Bulldogs Close Out 2007 At Ball State On Saturday

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The Opening Tip: Butler (9-1) rides a seven-game winning streak into the start of a four-game road swing on Saturday (Dec. 29) when it takes on Ball State beginning at 3:00 p.m. at John E. Worthen Arena in Muncie, Ind. With a win over the Cardinals, the Bulldogs would move to 10-1 and tie the 1990-91 squad for the school's best start to a season in the last 26 years.

We're Going Streaking!: The Bulldogs' seven-game winning streak is the program's longest since the 1997-98 team reeled-off 15-straight from Jan. 10 to March 6, 1998.

Way Ahead Of The Pace: Butler lightning-fast start to the season has the team way ahead of its pace last year. The Bulldogs didn't record their ninth victory of the season until Feb. 3, when they topped Wright State 68-56.

Quite A Year: The last 365 days has made one great year for the Bulldogs. Butler closed the 2006-07 campaign with a 14-7 run that began on Dec. 20, 2006 with an 85-57 victory over Tennessee State. On Dec. 20, 2007, just hours over one year since that game, the Bulldogs recorded their ninth win in the first 10 games of the 2007-08 season for an impressive 23-8 record during that time frame.

Bulldogs On The Web: Live stats for Butler's game at Ball State will be available online by visiting the Cardinals' official athletics website at www.BallStateSports.com.

Previewing The Bulldogs: Butler goes for its eight-straight win on Saturday after rallying for a convincing 70-55 victory over IPFW on Dec. 20. The Bulldogs lead the Horizon League in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 59.2 points per game, and are second in scoring at 67.6 per contest. Butler has also been the best in the conference at taking care of the basketball, touting a league-best 1.03 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Junior center Lade Akande, who became the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 points on Dec. 6, has been the biggest offensive culprit on the team this season, leading the squad with 16.5 points per game and ranking second with 6.1 rebounds. Sophomore forward Susan Lester has been nearly as dominant in the post, tallying 13.3 points and a team-best 7.2 boards per contest while adding outside shooting with a team-leading 17 three-pointers. Junior guard Candace Jones continues to be a force on the perimeter, averaging 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-high 3.7 assists, while freshman guard Brittany Bowen has chipped in 5.6 points and 3.1 boards per game in her rookie season. Junior forward Tara Miller has added 4.5 points and 3.0 assists per game and leads the league with a 3.33 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Freshman guard Azjah Bass has showng glimpses of brilliance off the bench, tallying 10.0 points per game in the last three contests to raise her season scoring average to 4.5 per game. Senior forwards and co-captains Candace Bain and Cassie Freeman bring leadership to the floor and add consistent scoring and rebounding off the bench. Sophomore forward Melanie Thornton provides a quick and athletic presence at the post, while junior guard Candyce Brown brings strong defensive prowess on the perimeter. Rookie posts Chloe Hamilton and Amie Kabara, as well as freshman guard Terra Burns, add depth. Head coach Beth Couture (74-82) is in her sixth season at Butler.

A Look At The Cardinals: Ball State boasts a 4-8 record on the year after claiming a 68-59 victory over Austin Peay on Dec. 21. Prior to that win, the Cardinals had dropped six in a row. A corps of nine players has seen all of the playing time for BSU this year, with the team averaging 62.2 points per game and 6.2 treys per contest. Junior guard Porchia Green (12.4 points per game) and senior guard Julie Demuth (12.3) pace the offense, with Demuth also boasting a team-best 6.3 rebounds per game.

The Match-Up At A Glance: Saturday's contest in Muncie will be the 17th meeting between the two teams, with the Bulldogs holding a 9-7 advantage in the series that dates back to the 1980-81 season. After Butler claimed two of the first three contests, Ball State scored wins in the following three meetings before the Bulldogs reeled off seven in a row from 1986-87 to 1994-95. The Cardinals have won the last three match-ups, including a 97-65 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse last season.

The Last Time vs. Ball State: Lisa Rusche led all scorers with 36 points and Ball State out-shot the Bulldogs, 55.0 percent to 36.8, as the Cardinals claimed a 97-65 decision over Butler in the second game of the State Farm Hoosier Classic on Dec. 2, 2006. Ellen Hamilton notched a team-high 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 for three, while Jackie Closser finished in double-figures with 13, including a trey to extend her three-pointers-made streak to 35 contests.

Bulldogs Roll Past IPFW, 70-55: Susan Lester and Lade Akande posted double-doubles, Candace Jones finished one rebound shy of a third and the Bulldogs overcame an early first-half deficit to oust a feisty IPFW squad, 70-55, at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday (Dec. 20) afternoon. Butler smothered the IPFW offense, holding the team 15 points below their season average (70.5), and held guard Johnna Lewis-Carlisle, who began the week ranked eighth in the NCAA with 21.5 points per game, to just 12. Lester scored 21 points and 10 rebounds, Akande added 15 points and 10 boards and Jones finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

The National Spotlight: The Bulldogs find themselves listed among the top teams in Division I in eight statistical categories, according to the latest NCAA statistics from Dec. 16. Two Butler players are ranked in the national standings, with Tara Miller placing in a tie for fifth in assists-to-turnovers ratio, while Lade Akande checks in at 47th in field goal percentage. As a team, Butler is listed in six statistical categories, including top-20 rankings in win-loss percentage (T-17th) and assists-to-turnovers ratio (20th).

A Dominant Stretch: Sophomore Susan Lester has been a force to be reckoned with recently, averaging 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in the last five outings. However, excluding the game against Oakland City on Dec. 3 in which she was limited to 18 minutes due to foul trouble, Lester has averaged 19.8 points and 10.5 boards in four of those contests. During that time, she has posted three double-doubles and came one rebound shy of a fourth, scored 20 or more points twice including a career-high 28 and tallied a season-best 13 rebounds.

That's What I Call Bench Support: The Bulldogs have received some outstanding performances from bench players during their current seven-game winning streak. Junior Candyce Brown had a career day against Indiana State on Dec. 1, going 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to post a lifetime-best 11 points. Two days later, sophomore Melanie Thornton provided a boost off the bench with a career-high 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting against Oakland City on Dec. 3. Freshman Azjah Bass has made the most recent contributions, going 4-for-7 from the field with three treys and a 4-of-4 mark from the line to notch 15 points against Evansville on Dec. 6 and totalling 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting against IPFW on Dec. 20.

On Second Thought: Head coach Beth Couture must have some really motivating halftime speeches, because Butler has played some of it's best basketball in the second period this year. In 10 games this season, the Bulldogs have averaged over five points more in the second period than the first (36.3 to 31.3). Butler has also averaged only 6.0 turnovers in the second period compared with 8.8 in the first (-2.8 difference), which is a big reason why the Bulldogs are among the top-20 in the nation with a 1.03 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

Moving Up The List: It hasn't taken long for junior Lade Akande to begin her ascent up the Bulldogs' career scoring chart. The Robinson, Ill., went from 19th in the school rankings to 16th after just two games thanks to a 23-point perforamance against Tennessee State (Dec. 16) and a 15-point outing against IPFW (Dec. 20). She now touts 1,043 points in her career and needs just 38 points to move past Angela Cotton (1,080) into 15th.

Player Of The Week Percentage: You won't find it on any of the Horizon League's statistics lists, but if it was, Lade Akande would be the hands-down league leader. The 6-1 center has already been a regular among the Horizon League's Player of the Week recipients, winning three of the seven honors presented this year for the most times this season. After being recognized the first week of the season (Nov. 14), Akande took home the award in weeks three (Nov. 26) and four (Dec. 3). She currently ranks third in the league with 16.5 points per game and a .531 field goal percentage.

Passing With Flying Colors: A big reason why the Bulldogs lead the Horizon League and in the top-20 in the country with a 1.03 assists-to-turnovers ratio this season has been due to the play of Tara Miller and Candace Jones. The duo ranks in the Horizon League's top five in A/T ratio, with Miller touting a league-best 3.33 and Jones checking in a fourth-place tie with a 1.32. Not surprisingly, the tandem also finds themselves among the top-10 in the league in assists per game, with Jones tied for third at 3.7 per contest and Miller tied for 11th with 3.0 per game.

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 provided the bulk of the offense. Akande currently leads the squad and is third in the league with 16.5 points per game, while Lester is second on the team and seventh in the conference with 14.1 points to her credit.

...But Don't Think The Three Is Out: Just because the Bulldogs feature two of the best post players in the Horizon League doesn't mean they have eliminated their bread-and-butter three-pointer completely. Butler is fourth in the league with 6.3 three pointers made per game and second with 188 attempts. In fact, the Bulldogs' leading culprit for hitting the three has been none other than post player Susan Lester, who has totaled 17.

...And How About That Three-Point Defense: Adding to the effect of Butler's three-point attack this year has been its ability to keep their opponents from converting long range shots. The Bulldogs rank second in the league by holding their foes to a .288 three-point shooting percentage (44-of-153) while allowing just 4.4 treys per game, almost two fewer than Butler's per game average. In fact, only one opponent (Evansville with eight) has notched more than five in a game, while two opponents (Ohio and Bradley) converted only one shot.

Accuracy Counts: Butler's three-point attack features two of the most accurate shooters in the Horizon League. Freshman Brittany Bowen leads the league with a .579 three-point percentage (11-for-19), while sophomore Susan Lester ranks 12th with a .370 percentage (17-for-46).

Taking A Stand: A defensive stand, that is. The Bulldogs have been among the best in the Horizon League this season when it comes to keeping opponents off the board, leading the league with only 59.2 points allowed per game and ranking second with a .387 opponent field goal percentage. Butler is also third in the conference with 3.7 blocks per game and 9.3 steals per contest.

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: The Horizon League season kicks off for the Bulldogs on Jan. 5, as Butler continues its four-game road swing when it takes on Valparaiso beginning at 2:35 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. It will be the second time this season that the Bulldogs will play at Valpo after topping Indiana State in the Hoosier Classic on Dec. 1.