Chances are Megan Gustafson will always remember her first career start, even if those memories aren’t all positive.
Making her first collegiate start midway through what has been a strong freshman season, Gustafson had seven points but didn't have a rebound in a 90-73 loss to Purdue.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder stuck with Gustafson in the starting lineup after the rough start and it’s paid off double — as in double-doubles.
Gustafson has recorded a double-double in three straight games entering Sunday’s 2 p.m. meeting with No. 14 Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“That’s correct, she did not have a rebound at Purdue,” Bluder said with a laugh. “It’s hard to believe, we don’t expect that out of Megan and that was an anomaly I think because she has been rebounding really well for us all year so I think that was a one-game kind of situation. Ever since then she has had three consecutive double-doubles, so she is doing a great job on the boards.”
In the two games following her reboundless performance against Purdue, Gustafson set career highs in boards in back-to-back games.
She grabbed 12 in her first career double-double in a win over Michigan, and then had 13 to go with 15 points in a win at Northwestern, where she played a career-high 33 minutes.
The 6-foot-3 Gustafson is averaging 12.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game over the last three games, helping Iowa go 2-1 in those contests.
"I think the last three games she has understood how much we are counting on her,” Bluder said. “Maybe that has been a boost to her confidence and being in the starting lineup as well but she has just been tremendous for us.”
Gustafson has been solid all season, scoring in double figures in eight of the Hawkeyes' first 16 games.
She has been at her best of late, snapping a string of four straight games without double-digit scoring outputs with her current string of three straight double-doubles.
“My teammates have been doing a great job of getting me the ball,” Gustafson said. “It helps having Chase (Coley) out there playing well, she really opens things up for me.”
Gustafson is averaging 8.9 points per game on the season, ranks third on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game and leads Iowa in blocks with 1.6 per game.
“Anytime a freshman contributes this much I think it's a bonus because you just never know what you are going to get out of freshmen,” Bluder said. “You can create an all-American freshman and be really not certain how they are going to handle the whole situation because there is so much they have to adjust to. Anytime you get a freshman that contributes this much it’s just frosting on the cake."
Iowa will need another big effort from Gustafson on Sunday against a Michigan State team that ranks among the best in the Big Ten.
Michigan State overcame a 13-point halftime lead to down Iowa 80-73 earlier this season in East Lansing and will be playing its third game in five days after traveling to Maryland on Friday.
Iowa (15-8, 5-6 Big Ten) is looking for redemption from that loss in East Lansing as well as a chance to move on from a 79-74 loss to Indiana on Thursday in which the Hawkeyes saw a 17-point second-half lead slip away.
“I hope that they are excited to get back out and redeem themselves,” Bluder said. “It’s double redemption, bouncing back after Indiana and bouncing back after we had a lead at Michigan State.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
No. 14 Michigan State (17-4, 8-2) at Iowa (15-8, 5-6)
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Stat leaders: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 16.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg; Chase Coley 10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg. Michigan State – Aerial Powers 20.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg; Tori Jankoska 16.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
What to watch: Iowa gets a chance for some redemption against the Spartans after letting a 13-point halftime lead slip away in an 80-73 loss in East Lansing on Jan. 16.
Michigan State scored 34 points in the fourth quarter of its come-from-behind win over the Hawkeyes in the first meeting and shot 61 percent from the field while scoring 57 second-half points.
Iowa is coming off a 79-74 loss at Indiana on Thursday, while Michigan State is playing its third game in five days after hosting Michigan on Thursday and traveling to Maryland on Friday for the makeup of a game postponed by snow last month.