By Jordan Zuniga
Once again, officials announced for the fifth-straight Monday that Iowa’s Megan Gustafson would be recognized with a weekly Big Ten award.
It comes after a week in which Gustafson averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 73.3 percent from the floor. She also picked up her ninth and 10th double-doubles this season.
Yet nobody around the Iowa basketball program was surprised by Gustafson’s performance. In fact, it was just what everyone expected.
These heavy expectations for the 6-3 forward/center don’t bother her though. In fact, it’s something she embraces.
“I know that I’m depended on a lot by my teammates and my coaches,” she said. “Knowing that, I really like to work with pressure, so being able to exceed people’s expectations is something that I try to work on.”
Last season, Gustafson averaged 18.5 points on 65 percent shooting with 10.1 rebounds as a sophomore. She also became the youngest Hawkeye to score 600 points in a season.
She finished the season ranked in the top-30 in seven different categories and was named to first team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media.
This year, she got better.
Through 11 games, the junior has averaged 21.5 points per game on 70 percent shooting while grabbing 12.5 rebounds.
To put that in context of the nation, she is fifth in rebounds per game, second in field-goal percentage, and 19th in points per game.
The strategy often used against dominant post players is to foul them to send them to the line, but that won’t stop Gustafson, who has shot 77 percent from the free-throw line.
Her stellar start was recognized by the NCAA, and she was placed on the Naismith Trophy watch list, an award given to the top women’s college basketball player.
Despite the numbers and on-count dominance, Gustafson’s biggest contribution to her team may come off the court. This Hawkeye team is as closely knit as an Irish fisherman’s sweater, which means the team’s biggest focus is on winning, not individual stats. It’s the kind of mentality any coach dreams of, and it’s something that Gustafson exemplifies.
“Megan was up in Coach [Jan] Jensen’s office [Dec. 6] watching film,” head coach Lisa Bluder. “Jan was like, ‘You know they’re going to try to keep you out of this game.’ [Gustafson] goes, ‘I don’t care, if I score 4 points and we win, that is just great.’ ”
Even though Gustafson wasn’t named a captain, her humble example is followed by the team captains and the rest of the Hawkeye players.
“When somebody who’s so important to our team sets that standard that all we care about is winning — all we care about is each other — it’s really easy to follow along, and everybody buys into it. It’s been super fun,” captain Kathleen Doyle said.
Gustafson will try to add another double-double to her stat sheet as she and the now-No. 25 Hawkeyes will take on Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls at 2 p.m. on Dec. 17.