IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Megan Gustafson scored 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in Iowa’s narrow loss to Florida State on Nov. 24.
Statistically speaking, it was her worst game of the year.
Gustafson’s epic production has only increased during a second consecutive stellar season for the 14th-ranked Hawkeyes. Such an uptick was something that even coach Lisa Bluder couldn’t see coming after her star center led the country in scoring a year ago.
Gustafson broke the Big Ten record Monday with her 21st career player of the week award. She is averaging a career-high and national-best 27.3 points to go along with 12.8 rebounds per game for Iowa (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten), which hosts Illinois on Thursday.
Gustafson is 42 points shy of 2,500 for her career. Oh, and she also has 229 more rebounds than any other Hawkeye ever.
“It really is amazing what she has done in back-to-back years,” Bluder said. “When I met with her at the end of last year I said, ‘Well, you know you’re probably not going to do this again.’ And now here she is, proving me wrong. She is doing it again — and she’s doing it even better.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Gustafson’s prodigious output is that her game has always been more about tenacity and determination than physical skill.
Gustafson is generously listed at 6-foot-3. But she nonetheless consistently powers through bigger opponents with a cadre of crafty post moves combined with, at times, the sheer force of her will.
Gustafson has never been a threat beyond the arc — she’s taken only one 3-pointer this season, and of course it went in. But Gustafson identified her mid-range game as a weakness to be fixed in an effort to stretch the floor, and she’s hitting more jumpers in 2018-19.
That hard work, along with playing for a team that understands that getting her the ball is always a good idea, has pushed Gustafson’s game to new heights.
“My teammates are always hunting for me. I mean, they were last year, too. I think this year it’s even more so,” Gustafson said. “But also, for myself, I’m able to pull my game out a bit more. … Last year, just about all of my shots were by the block.”
Gustafson has racked up 11 conference player of the week honors in 2018-19 alone — while compiling incredible stat lines with such regularity that they almost get overlooked.
Gustafson had 44 points and 14 rebounds in a win at Drake, which was in the AP Top 25 at the time, and added 34 points and 13 boards in beating Minnesota. She poured in 41 points with 14 rebounds in a win last week against Michigan State, and on Sunday, Gustafson had 29 points with 16 boards in a win at Ohio State.
Gustafson is shooting 70.6 percent from the floor, even though she sees about as many double teams as any player in America. That ranks second-best nationally.
“Megan is so strong mentally. Her composure is so good. She just doesn’t let things rattle her,” Bluder said. “We try not to put any pressure on her, but she doesn’t put any pressure on herself either. It’s not like she feels like it’s important for her to score this many points. It’s not important to her. It’s genuinely important to her that her team wins.”
Getting the Hawkeyes to do so in March is just about the last thing left for Gustafson to accomplish.
Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten regular-season title since 2008, and last season the Hawkeyes were upset by Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But Iowa has won eight of its last nine games with Gustafson leading the way, and the tournament selection committee tabbed the Hawkeyes as the 10th overall seed in Monday’s initial reveal.
The top 16 teams hosts the first two rounds.
“Winning a championship (is my focus). I’d love to win a Big Ten championship, and I know my teammates would say the same thing,” Gustafson said. “I’d love to host the NCAAs. That would be amazing…my focus has always been on the team, and I’ll continue to do that.”
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