BOZEMAN — As the nonconference season slogged along, Montana State senior Delany Junkermier fell deeper into an ugly shooting slump.
She hit rock bottom in early December when she failed to make a field goal in back-to-back games against Hawaii and Stephen F. Austin. By the time the Bobcats’ non-league schedule concluded, Junkermier was making only 28 percent of her shots, including a mere 17 percent from 3-point range.
But something clicked for Junkermier once the Big Sky Conference season began, and she is now one of MSU’s prolific scorers. That trend continued Saturday in the Bobcats’ 85-50 rout of Sacramento State at Worthington Arena in which Junkermier scored a career-high 23 points.
The guard from Spokane, Washington, made 7 of 12 from the floor and hit 5 of 6 3-point attempts to help Montana State get back in the win column after three consecutive losses.
“I actually had a friend and a sister tell me, ‘Who cares if you shoot the ball? In the end, you’re shooting your shot.’ And I kind of took that to heart,” Junkermier explained. “I know I have a good shot, so I’ve just been really confident with it and it’s been going in. I’ve been very thankful for that.”
It was a much-needed victory for the Bobcats, who were a bit fragile emotionally following a 69-60 loss to Portland State on Thursday, which ended their 31-game home winning streak.
The winning streak was the second-longest in Division I women’s basketball.
“It was hard (Friday) in practice, trying to get re-energized,” coach Tricia Binford said. “(The streak) was something we took a lot of pride in for our community and our fans, but at the same time I told them that we needed to celebrate that achievement.
“I was really proud that we were able to turn the page.”
Junkermier’s sudden turnabout would have been hard to predict a month ago. But in five Big Sky games — she missed MSU’s game at Northern Colorado last week due to an ankle injury — Junkermier is shooting 58 percent (33 of 57) and a sizzling 62 percent (18 of 29) from beyond the arc.
Her 23 points against Sac State eclipsed her previous career-high point total of 22.
“I’ve been more focused,” she said. “It’s my last conference (season), so I’m just trying to play my best and do what’s necessary to win.”
Point guard Hannah Caudill, in her role as MSU’s floor general, scored eight points but also dished out eight assists and gathered six rebounds. Caudill was the catalyst of a 21-assist performance. The Bobcats turned the ball over just 10 times.
Caudill now has 420 career assists, which pulls her closer to the school record of 443 set by Vicki (Heebner) Carle from 1980-84.
“When she’s on and making everybody else look good, that’s when we’re feeling pretty good,” Montana State coach Tricia Binford said of Caudill. “We’re actually playing our best when she’s not our leading scorer and when she’s just getting everybody involved. And I think that’s what people had a chance to see today.”
The Bobcats led by six points at halftime but opened the third quarter with a 15-5 run and eventually led by as 19 points. Junkermier hit a pair of 3s within the first four minutes of the period to spur the run.
Sacramento State was held scoreless for much of the fourth quarter.
MSU finished the game plus-34 in rebounding. Its 13 offensive boards produced 20 second-chance points. The Bobcats also made 13 of 24 from 3-point range.
“It was a really good game to bounce back on,” Junkermier said. “Sac State is a fun game because you’re able to put up a lot of points and get some confidence back, and I think that was huge for our team.
“The fact that we were communicating on the defensive end was really crucial for us because that’s when our breakdowns happen, when we don’t communicate. I thought it was a big step in the right direction.”
Madeline Smith added 14 points for the Bobcats. Rebekah Hatchard and Oliana Squires scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. Hornets standout Maranne Johnson, the Big Sky’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, scored 20 points, though she made just 4 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Montana State (9-8, 3-3 Big Sky) now turns its attention to rival Montana, which it will host next weekend at Worthington Arena. The much-improved Lady Griz (9-8, 5-1) beat Portland State 69-53 on Saturday in Missoula.
“Obviously they’re going to come out firing,” Junkermier said. “They’re doing well in the Big Sky right now. We’re really excited for our home court advantage, but we need to treat it like any game and execute what we have to do.”