Katie Bussey decided she was tired of being in a slump.
So the Montana State senior shot her way out of it.
Bussey went on her own 12-0 run sandwiching the close of the first half and beginning of the second half Saturday afternoon to help lift MSU to a 77-65 Big Sky Conference win over Northern Arizona in Bozeman. Bussey finished with a game-high 26 points.
Bussey came into the game shooting just 26 percent over her last two games, including 1-for-10 from beyond the 3-point arc. Saturday, she started the afternoon 1-for-6, but caught fire thanks in large part to her own personal outburst.
Bussey hit a pair of free throws, a floater from the baseline and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to close the first half. She then opened the second half by drilling another deep ball and cashing in on two more from the charity strip to extend what was once a one-point MSU advantage to a 40-27 lead. Bussey finished 4-for-10 from downtown and 12-for-12 from the charity stripe.
"I started off just cold again, but I couldn't let it get to me this game," Bussey said. "Last game (a 64-61 win over Weber State), I let it get in my head. But I remembered what people have been telling me, to have confidence in my shot and just know I've been a good shooter for four years, so I just have to believe in myself."
Bussey is MSU's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and is 17 triples away from becoming the Big Sky Conference's all-time leader.
Bussey's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the first half almost didn't happen. Montana State found itself with an opportunity to run an inbounds play with less than three seconds left. Amid confusion, MSU head coach Tricia Binford called a set play where Bussey inbounded the ball only to get it back and take the clock-beating trey. Without hesitation, MSU's lone senior drilled it.
"That was not only huge for the team, but huge for Katie because I forced that issue for her," Binford said. "She was passing up her 3s because she had gone cold, and I actually forced that play and made her take that three. For her to take that and knock that down was huge for her."
Bussey's personal seven-point spurt to close the half broke open a previously tight game. MSU continued the momentum, extending the lead to 15 before the Lumberjacks began to chip.
"The last minute of the first half was absolutely the key to the game," said NAU head coach Laurie Kelly. "They went on a 7-0 run that last minute and we just lost our focus. It put us down eight at halftime instead of down one."
Bussey found the stroke that's helped her averaged 17 points per game this season - third in the Big Sky - but she wasn't the only one with a hot hand. Montana State nailed 10 of its 23 shots from beyond the arc (43.5 percent) after hitting just 10 out of 38 deep balls during its last two games. Saturday afternoon, sophomore Ashley Albert hit a pair of 3-pointers and freshman Kalli Durham cashed in on three deep balls.
After digging itself a hole down 44-29, NAU ripped off a 17-2 run from the 15:27 mark of the second half until 10:38 remained in the game to close the gap to 48-46. NAU forward Tyler Stephens-Jenkins scored eight of her team-high 19 points during the burst.
With just under 10 minutes to play, Durham took a match out of Bussey's book and caught fire herself. The true freshman from Miles City drilled three 3-pointers in less than three minutes to help her team go up 60-50 with 7:02 to play. Montana State's lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the afternoon.
"Kalli is the reason we went on that run in the second half," Bussey said. "She really got us our energy back and gave us a good flow in our offense. She was just lighting them up. That's exactly what we need her to come in and do."
Durham, the niece of former MSU men's basketball coach Mick Durham, finished with 13 points in 12 minutes off the bench for the Bobcats. Junior forward Rachel Semansky was held to nine points - six below her average - but she pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds, two shy of MSU's all-time single-game record.
During MSU's previous two games, the Bobcats built double-digit second half leads. Against Idaho State, MSU let the Bengals come back from 14 points down to steal a 59-58 win. MSU barely held on against last-place Weber State (64-61). Saturday, the Lumberjacks made a run, but the Bobcats chinned the punch and threw a flurry right back.
"Today was a game where our fans could see our team turn the mental corner," Binford said. "Katie got out of her shooting slump. That was huge for her mentally. In that second half, when they made it tight, we got those little energy plays to get us through that. Having the spark with someone like Kalli coming in really gave us a lift."
Montana State is now 3-2 in Big Sky play and on a two-game league winning streak. The formula for the ‘Cats to get back on track was simple, according to the team's senior leader.
"We talked about keeping our energy all game and just having fun out there," Bussey said. "We won the last game, but we didn't have fun so we stressed that the next day in practice. We just need to have fun because that's how we get back to playing like ourselves."
Colter Nuanez can be reached at email@example.com or at 582-2690.