When Megan Gustafson concludes her career as an Iowa Hawkeye, she’ll leave an indelible imprint on basketball history.
Gustafson came to Iowa in 2015 from South Shore High School in Port Wing, Wisconsin, where she set the state’s career scoring record with 3,229 points. Four years later, she has similarly obliterated the university’s scoring mark, bypassing both previous women’s record-holder Ally Disterhoft and men’s scoring leader Roy Marble in the same game last December.
A four-year career that’s “crazy [in] how fast it’s gone by” reaches one milestone Sunday, when Gustafson and her Iowa teammates face Northwestern in the regular-season finale.
“I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet, because I just want to keep what we have going right now,” Gustafson told FloHoops about her history-making career. “After the season, I’ll have time to look back and reflect on my time at Iowa.”
Until then, the Hawkeyes still have work to do. They are guaranteed at least the No. 2 seed at next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
With a win over Northwestern, and if Illinois can shock Maryland, the Hawkeyes would split the conference’s regular-season crown with the Terrapins and earn the top seed, the result of winning the one head-to-head matchup between the teams on Feb. 17.
Choosing the quintessential Megan Gustafson performance from her illustrious career is a tall order – one that can wait until after Iowa’s NCAA Tournament, at least – but the 24 second-half points en route to 31 overall against Maryland might qualify.
If not her performance against Maryland, a 32-point effort on 13-of-16 shooting against Rutgers in January nicely crystalizes Gustafson’s career. But then, so too does the 41-point, 14-rebound outpouring Iowa’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader delivered Feb. 7 against Michigan State.
And that’s only accounting for 2018-19. Gustafson won Big Ten Player of the Year in 2017-18 after averaging 25.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, producing plenty more memorable moments along the way – like her program-record 48 points, scored in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament against Minnesota.
She’ll almost assuredly close this season as the nation’s leading scorer. Her 27.4 points per game are 2.5 more than the nation’s second-most prolific scorer, Arizona’s Aari McDonald. Gustafson ranks third nationally in rebounding at 13.3 per game. The uptick in both categories from 2017-18 to 2018-19 continues a career-long trend, as her averages improved every single season.
“It really is amazing what she has done in back-to-back years,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press. “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 some of Gustafson’s continued improvement comes from her basketball background. She played for her father, Clendon, at South Shore, and said she “grew up around the game.”
But Gustafson also credits her stellar individual play to the Hawkeyes around her, whose ability to create space and get her the ball negates double-teams, triple-teams, and other gimmick defenses.
Iowa can rely on a dangerous pick-and-roll offense, with defenders forced to commit to a cutting Gustafson. With effective scorers on the perimeter like Tania Davis and Kathleen Doyle, however, it’s a conundrum.
As a result, the Hawkeyes are putting up close to 79 points per game, 20th in the nation. They’re third nationally in assists per game with 21.4. Doyle, Davis, and Makenzie Meyer have all dropped at least 116 dimes on the season.
Individual glory is headed Gustafson’s way; she’ll likely repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year, and she has a strong case to win National Player of the Year. The unselfish style with which the Hawkeyes have flourished more closely reflect Gustafson’s aspirations for team success.
Iowa lost to Creighton in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, a result that Gustafson said left “a chip on [the Hawkeyes’] shoulder, especially going into” March.
While a time for Gustafson to reflect on her many career accomplishments will come, she hopes that won’t be for another month or so – after the Final Four. The time for looking back will be short, however.
The WNBA Draft is April 10, one week after the 2019 national championship. From there, it’s Megan Gustafson’s opportunity to continue making history on another level.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.