Leistikow: Her incredible career over, Megan Gustafson's Iowa legacy goes beyond numbers

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The last piece of official play-by-play, with 24 seconds to go, from Iowa’s season-ending loss to Baylor on Monday night was perhaps the most profound five words from a 32-point defeat.

Substitution out: Iowa’s Megan Gustafson.

The most incredible career of any basketball player, man or woman, to wear a Hawkeye jersey is over. As the final seconds wound down in Baylor’s 85-53 rout at Greensboro Coliseum, Gustafson embraced head coach Lisa Bluder and top assistant Jan Jensen — a final on-court farewell to greatness.

I know you’re supposed to say, “never say never.”

Iowa's Megan Gustafson (10) shoots against Baylor's Kalani Brown (21) during the Bears' 85-53 win Monday night in Greensboro, N.C. It probably speaks to Gustafson's fantastic career that 23 points and nine rebounds were considered an "off" night by her standards.

But it feels pretty safe to say this: We’ll never see someone like Megan Gustafson again.

She will be missed at Iowa, but never forgotten.

The record books will make sure of that.

With her 136th and final collegiate game complete, let’s put some of her unbelievable final numbers in perspective.

With 23 points Monday, Gustafson became the fourth player in Division I history to score 1,000 points in a season. Her driving layup off the glass with 3:21 to play were the final two points of her career and gave her 1,001 this season. The three women before her to join Club 1K: Washington's Kelsey Plum (2017), Missouri State's Jackie Stiles (2001) and Baylor's Odyssey Sims (2014). More perspective: Only one season in the last 25 has seen a Division I men's player reach 1,000 (BYU's Jimmer Fredette, in 2011).

The 1,001 points cleared the Big Ten season record by a wide margin. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham had the previous high, at 914, in 2016.

Her 1,824 points over the past two seasons alone would rank No. 5 in Iowa history. Michelle “Ice” Edwards, whose No. 30 is the only jersey in Iowa women’s history to be retired, scored 1,821 in her four-year career. (Gustafson's No. 10 will one day be the second.)

Gustafson’s 412 field goals this season are a new NCAA record. Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike in 2014 set the previous mark of 402. It took Ogwumike 669 attempts — 78 more than Gustafson needed. Gustafson's 412 crushed the Big Ten record of 341.

Gustafson’s 2,804 career points are 702 more than the previous Iowa record holder, Ally Disterhoft. Roy Marble holds the Iowa men’s record, at 2,116. 

Gustafson’s 1,459 career rebounds are a Big Ten record. Jantel Lavender of Ohio State (2008-11) held the previous mark of 1,422. 

Gustafson’s 480 rebounds this season (13.3 average) also demolished the previous conference record of 426. Interestingly, Gustafson's 411 as a junior rank third on this list.

Her 33 double-doubles this season tied an NCAA record. She needed one more rebound Monday to have it to herself. Her 88 career double-doubles rank fourth in NCAA history.

And officially, she owns the Big Ten’s season and career field-goal percentage records. She shot 69.7 percent his season (the old record was 69.0) and 65.7 percent for her career (the old mark was 65.0). Her totals: 1,136 makes vs. 594 misses. Incredible, in a sport where 50 percent is considered really good.

Megan Gustafson exits the floor after her final game as a Hawkeye.

What made Gustafson's epic career especially remarkable: She was never a shot-hunter. (By comparison, the four women ahead of her on the Big Ten career scoring list attempted an average of 2,404 shots; Gustafson took 1,730.)

She used crafty angles, incredible footwork and a deft left-handed touch to pile up two methodical points at a time. Often times in games, she would get neutralized for a while. That tends to happen when you're double- and triple-teamed. But as the 40 minutes wore on, she would overtake her opponents, both physically and mentally.

Iowa center Megan Gustafson holds Lennon, a 3-year-old Corgi, while the Hawkeyes Elite Eight women's basketball team is welcomed by fans on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, at Transit Intermodal Facility in Coralville, Iowa.

The positive results went beyond individual stats: In her senior season, Gustafson helped Iowa tie a program record with 29 wins, led the Hawkeyes to their first Big Ten Tournament title in 18 years and led them to their first Elite Eight in 26 years. In an era of women's basketball in which there are four to six programs a year in a different orbit than everyone else (think four to six Alabama footballs), that's a major accomplishment.

Much has been written about Gustafson, especially in the past few months. She’s been named espnW national player of the year, a first-team AP All-American and is one of four finalists for two major national awards — the Naismith and Wade Trophy. Winning those awards would add to her legacy, not define it.

Because on top of all that, Gustafson will be remembered by those who know her best as someone who always treated people right. She always signed autographs for young fans, even if she was standing there an hour after a game. She united a locker room with her quirky humor and humble approach. Even as the individual honors piled up, she was quick to credit teammates.

In a tear-filled news conference Monday night, one of the first things she mentioned was being happy that senior teammate Tania Davis became the 36th player in Iowa women’s history to reach 1,000 career points.

"That's ... amazing," Gustafson said.

So was she.

"Just tried to work hard every single day," Gustafson said through tears. "God has just blessed me with an amazing ability to play basketball. And I’m just so, so blessed and thankful that the University of Iowa chose me and that I chose them."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.