BOZEMAN — Worthington Arena could not have been any friendlier to Montana State two weeks ago. In victories over Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, the Bobcats buried a combined 34 3-pointers as their new motion offense took flight.
MSU could use a similar bit of home cooking this week as it looks to atone for last week’s road woes in losses at Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
The Bobcats (8-7, 2-2 Big Sky) host Portland State (8-6, 2-1) on Thursday for a chance to get back on track — and build on their 31-game home winning streak, the second-longest streak in Division I women’s hoops. They welcome Sacramento State (3-11, 1-2) on Saturday.
On its previous homestand, MSU shot a sizzling 44 percent from the 3-point arc, which included a school-record 18 makes against Southern Utah. In their two losses on the road last week, the Bobcats shot 36 percent.
Montana State will try get its perimeter shooting dialed in again.
“I think both of these teams are going to give us a lot of open 3s. Hopefully we’ll be on,” said guard Hannah Caudill, who tied a career-high with 24 points against North Dakota.
“It’s better to be on than off, and we were kind of off (last week). We’ve played really well at home so far, but it’s going to be a good test for our whole team to see if we can keep that going at home.”
If the Bobcats are to keep their winning ways intact at Worthington, they’ll have to account for Portland State star junior Ashley Bolston, one of the top players in the Big Sky Conference.
Bolston stands 6-foot-2 but plays a 94-foot game. The Washington State transfer was the Big Sky’s newcomer of the year a season ago and has picked up where she left off by averaging 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game since returning from injury in December.
“She’s definitely hard to guard because she’s a (6-2) point guard that can play at every position,” Caudill said. “She has a good inside game, a good pull-up game. She’s very strong, very versatile. It will be interesting to see what we do with her and how we play her.”
Bolston scored 29 points in each of her games against the Bobcats last season.
“We haven’t yet done a fantastic job of guarding her,” MSU coach Tricia Binford said. “She’s a multidimensional player in that she can take you from the perimeter, she can post up, she’s got a lot of size, so our assignments and our matchups are going to be tough and challenging. We’re going to have to respond to that challenge.”
To Caudill’s point, Portland State and Sacramento State will each show certain defensive looks that could give the Bobcats good opportunities for perimeter baskets — the Vikings with their 2-3 zone and the Hornets with their press.
No one is necessarily expecting another 34 weekend 3-pointers, but the Bobcats could have a chance to at least match their long-distance shooting percentage. Binford said her team will not shy away from taking those shots when they’re available — but she also pointed to another key factor.
“Portland State is going to force you to hit some outside shots, and Sac State is going to press and put you in positions where when you break it you’re going to have some open looks as well. That’s been a strength for us and it’s something that we’re not going to go away from. We’re definitely going to take those (shots).
“But what I liked this last week is that we also started getting a combination of some things in the paint. I’d like to see us be stronger with those situations so we can get ourselves to the foul line more. Teams are really hurting us getting there more often than we are.”
Through four conference games MSU has attempted only 18 free throws, making 14. On their last homestand, the Bobcats shot just 4 for 6 from the stripe.
Focusing on Thursday’s game, Montana State has won eight of the past 11 meetings with Portland State and is 21-7 all-time against the Vikings at Worthington Arena.
Keeping tabs on the record book, Caudill is now just 34 assists shy of the all-time school mark set by Vicki (Heebner) Carle from 1980-84.