By Adam Hensley
Megan Gustafson has carried the Iowa women’s basketball team this season, especially when it came time for the Big Ten Tournament — that’s no secret.
Her 48-point, 15-rebound performance against Minnesota was no fluke; she’s showed time and time again that she can put up gaudy numbers.
But as good as that performance was, it also spotlighted Iowa’s need for depth help.
After Iowa’s 90-89 loss, head coach Lisa Bluder said her team shot the ball well overall. Iowa made shots at a 54.1 percent rate, but throw out Gustafson’s 73.1 percent shooting outing, and the supporting cast put the ball in the hoop at 40 percent.
That’s not terrible by any means, but for Iowa to make some considerable noise in the NCAA Tournament, it needs to find one or two more scorers to drop double figures to complement Gustafson’s output.
“That was an amazing performance, though,” Bluder said about Gustafson. “I mean, I thought Makenzie [Meyer] shot the ball well, too.”
Meyer scored 13 points, but she was the only other Hawkeye in double figures.
In contrast, the Gophers had all but one of their starters score at least 14 points. Carlie Wagner and Kenisha Bell scored 27 and 26 points.
Going only eight deep in both Big Ten Tournament games, Bluder’s Bunch could easily produce numerous 20-point scorers, but ball control remains an issue as well.
For as many times as she touched the ball, Gustafson only turned the ball over once. Her teammates, on the other hand, gave the ball away 18 times, more than double Minnesota’s total.
Gustafson essentially did all she could to keep Iowa in the game against Minnesota; the Hawkeyes fell behind, 25-17, in the first quarter and had to claw their way back into the game.
Iowa kept things competitive for the most part when Gustafson left the floor for breathers, though. The Hawkeyes scored in transition thanks to some quick hands on defense — something that Iowa needs to capitalize on.
“I think we play really well in a fast-paced game,” Meyer said. “Obviously, we score well in transition.”
But the recipe for stopping Gustafson includes constant double teams, a handful of triple teams, and some bully-ball in the paint.
Northwestern did a remarkable job of containing Iowa’s 6-3 forward, and the Wildcats — for the most part — silenced her by not backing down, getting extremely physical in the paint when Gustafson attempted to post up her defender(s).
Many times, Gustafson hit the deck, whether it was going for a rebound or trying to put up a shot in the lane.
Gustafson finished with 12 points on only eight shots, and her lack of offensive production was evident in the final score; the Hawkeyes toppled the Wildcats, 55-45, in a low-scoring defensive affair.
Still, only four other Hawkeyes scored 8 or more points. Meyer scored 13, while Lexi Sevillian and Kathleen Doyle each dropped 9, and Hannah Stewart added 8. Chase Coley was the only other Iowa player to score, netting 4 points in her 26 minutes of action.
When the buzzer sounded after the first quarter ended, Iowa had the game well in hand, 22-1. But from then on, Northwestern won the scoring battle, outscoring the Hawkeyes, 44-33, getting Gustafson into foul trouble and limiting her playing time.
Iowa’s opponents will only get better, and their focus will hone on stopping Gustafson, the human double-double.
Iowa’s best hope is to ignite Gustafson’s supporting cast, because once her teammates start knocking down shots, it’s a different ball game.
“It’s really nice to depend on outside shooters,” Gustafson said. “Not only does it help out everyone else, but it opens up things down low because they do have to focus on the shooters.”