BOZEMAN — The Montana State women’s basketball team has been riddled with injuries since the start of the season, creating a ‘next one up’ mentality.
Nobody’s personified that more than Natalie Picton. She's a true freshman who has had to step in and make an instant impact as starting point guard since the beginning of the season.
And the rest of the Big Sky Conference? They already know to watch out.
Picton reflected back on the moment she found out she would have to step in and start at point guard.
"Oh my gosh," she said with a laugh. "It was during a film session, and we were sitting there. I didn’t even know that I was going to be put in that position until I looked at the scouting report and my name was on it, and I got so nervous, and I was like, I was ready for it, but I didn’t know it was going to come so fast."
That moment came just after exhibition play, right before the Bobcats' season officially opened against BYU. Sophomore guard Dylan Philips suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury during that time, prompting Picton to step into the role as floor general as her college career was just beginning.
But when MSU needed Picton to step into the starting point guard role, coach Tricia Binford didn't have to think twice.
"When Dylan after that second exhibition was not able to go, and (Picton) kind of had the spot, it was kind of like, well, this is what we need and what we have to have," Binford recalled about when she moved Picton to the starting lineup.
Now, Binford and her staff don’t look at Picton as a true freshman anymore. She’s found her voice and confidence to facilitate the offense because of the veterans believing in her.
"Just Dylan sitting on the sidelines and her experience her first year, and she’s been really helping me gain my confidence and just with all the other seniors on the court helping me, also," Picton explained of how her ability to control the floor has grown. "It’s really, I don’t know, become more confident."
Picton hails from Welland, Ontario, Canada and played high school basketball at Niagara Prep, as well as on the circuit for the Kia Nurse National EYBL team. One of the main reasons she ultimately landed at Montana State was because of Binford and her ability to coach smaller guards at an elite level.
"She was one of my main factors in committing here, just because she knows how to coach smaller point guards, and I think it’s really hard to find coaches that understand undersized guards and how to coach them to be the best," Picton explained.
"Well, she’s definitely a sponge," Binford said. "She’s a daughter of a coach, right? So, her dad’s her coach, and she’s got a super high IQ, and when you can see eye to eye instead of looking super high, you just see the game similarly."
Natalie’s father, David Picton, was a standout guard during his playing career which spans from winning a national championship in college with Brock University to Canada’s national team, as well as professionally in Germany.
He then moved on to coach girls basketball and as the head coach for Niagara Prep he trained his daughter for years. It’s where Natalie gets her high IQ and ability to read the game and the opposing team so well.
"He knows the game more than I do, so in my upper years and, like, high school area I started listening to him and started doing what he was asking me to do, and I think that’s really expanded my game," Picton said. "We’ve just grown so close now that I’m here because he can see me living out my dream."
A dream that’s come true in just her first year in Bozeman. She’s found a way to step into big shoes, which is something the entire freshman class has had to do as the team’s had to deal with the adversity of four season-ending injuries.
"It’s funny because that freshman class is so tight and they’re like best friends, but you’re seeing them now come into the coaching role with each other versus just the best friend role," Binford said.
Picton explained how the rest of her freshman class has had to rise to the occasion.
"With these injuries, we’ve just gotten so close, and we had to," Picton said. "Everyone had to step up, and having a relationship off the court really is helping us on the court."
A chemistry and high level of play they plan on bringing into Dahlberg Arena this Saturday versus Montana for the second edition of Cat-Griz this season. In the first meeting, Montana State won 64-55.