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Last year, as Montana State was preparing for its eighth season under Tricia Binford, the Bobcats were tasked with finding roles for seven new players.

This season, there is much more familiarity; the roster, with just two new names, is generally made up of holdovers from last season’s 17-13 squad.

Two of those returners — senior Emily Allen and junior Jackie Elliott — give Binford everything she needs at the small forward position. Unfortunately for the program’s most successful coach, she can’t utilize the two players skills at the same time.

Allen, who will likely get the starting nod when the season begins Nov. 10 against Cal State Northridge at Worthington Arena, is Montana State’s scrapper. She’ll be matched up with the opposition’s best scorer and be expected to limit that production.

Binford said Allen is the type of player “that will make you miserable on offense.”

Allen led the team in steals last season and was fourth in rebounding and feels ideally suited for the role Binford labeled as the team’s “50/50-ball kid”.

“I think it comes with my personality off the court as well,” Allen said. “I’m that crazy, hyperactive energizer. I always chase down the loose balls and I make sure I get in there for the rebounds.

“With defense as well, I like to get up on defense. That’s my strongest part of my game so I have to make sure I keep being physical and energetic on the court.”

Despite a renewed focus on defense, something that has charmed her coach, Elliott has been counted on to make more of an offensive contribution.

Elliott, a fast, athletic wing, who is capable of handling the ball in the open court, believes she’ll thrive in the new dribble-drive offense she was exposed to as a freshman.

“Right now, my shot selection in dribble-drive is really helping out,” Elliott revealed. “I love this offense, I really do. It’s given me a great opportunity to show all my strengths; I’m fast, my pull-up jumper is probably my bread and butter, so I’m really excited.”

That wasn’t always the case last year for the gregarious forward. As Montana State’s season started to crumble in the second half, Elliott saw her minutes wax and wane; she received just four minutes of court time in a 69-65 win over Weber State, but played 22 minutes in a blow-out loss to Sacramento State two games later.

Elliott, who Binford says is the most selfless player on the team, said she was at times affected by her inconsistent minutes. But a renewed focus on the team seems to have cured whatever ills the minutes fluctuation may have caused.

“It was hard, it definitely was. It took some mental toughness to look at it and say this is a team,” Elliott said. “I mean, we win as a team and we lose as a team and I truly believe that.”

Added Binford, “Jackie is the other one that’s really kind of taken it up a notch. Jackie has had a really great offseason; she’s really turned the corner. I think her leadership has really improved, as well.”

Like much of MSU’s roster, Elliott struggled with her shot last season, but an NCAA rules change allowing for more summer practice sessions has Elliott feeling confident heading into her junior year.

Allen, who spent much of her summer back home in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, wasn’t able to practice with the team, but is familiar with offense: Montana State used a very similar philosophy during Allen’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

Last season, Allen averaged two points per game and took the lowest amount of shots for players who appeared in all 30 games. As Binford tries to spread the floor with the new offense, Allen has discovered a few scoring opportunities.

“I like this offense because I’m someone who likes to get to the basket,” Allen said in her thick Australian accent. “It has openings for me to get to the basket, (and) that’s pretty much my role is getting to the basket and getting to the free throw line.”

Kyle Sample can be reached at ksample@dailychronicle.com or 582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @kylesample_bdc.

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