Megan Gustafson isn’t the type to make brash predictions.
The soft-spoken freshman from tiny Port Wing, Wis., isn’t much for anything more than quiet conversation with media much less boasting or bravado.
So when asked about making amends for her zero-rebound performance in Iowa’s first meeting with Purdue on Jan. 24, her first career start, Gustafson's response was less of an outlandish forecast and more of a understated promise.
“All I know is that I’m going to get rebounds from here on out,” Gustafson said.
Will the freshman be shut out again when Purdue (16-9, 7-7 Big Ten) comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday?
“No.” Gustafson answered quickly.
It’s hard to argue with Gustafson’s response.
Since that 90-73 loss to Purdue, the 6-foot-3 Gustafson has emerged as one of the best in the Big Ten at corralling missed shots.
Gustafson has had double-digit rebounding totals in five of her past six games and is averaging 12.2 rebounds per contest during that stretch for the Hawkeyes (15-11, 5-9). She's logged double-doubles five times in that stretch, too, averaging 11.8 points and even chipping in 1.8 blocks.
The lone game in single digits was an eight-rebound effort eight against Michigan State, the second-best rebounding team in the Big Ten.
“I think that was a turning point to me,” Gustafson said of the Purdue game. “Just to know that my job is now a starting role and I need to get rebounds. I need to help score when I can and I need help defensively. I knew after that game I needed to pick it up for sure.”
Gustafson hasn’t just picked it up — she’s become one of the best centers in the Big Ten over the past two weeks.
Gustafson became the first Iowa player with more than 17 rebounds in a game since 2013 when she grabbed a career-high 19 boards on Monday at Minnesota to go with 14 points.
“(Monday) she had 19 rebounds, and we haven’t had that since Sam Logic a few years ago, so just an amazing effort on the boards from her,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “She shot 50 percent from the field, too, so she is doing some great things for us.”
Gustafson's emergence has helped turn a perceived weakness into a strength for the Hawkeyes.
The strong rebounding of the freshman center, along with Iowa’s transition to a bigger lineup that has put Gustafson on the floor at the same time as 6-foot-3 Chase Coley, has enable the Hawkeyes to hold a rebounding edge in four of their past six games.
After being outrebounded 34-20 in the first meeting with Purdue, the Hawkeyes are a plus-3.2 in rebounding margin over the last six games.
“I think we have seen growth, especially in a few of our players,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “I think Chase and Megan have stepped up big in these past couple of games, especially, in the rebounding department.”
With four games remaining in the regular season, Gustafson is averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 51 percent from the field.
In Big Ten play, Gustafson has averaged 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“I think I’m holding my own,” Gustafson said. “That’s kind of one of my goals is to be as physical as possible, and I know that coach Jensen and coach Bluder are really on me about doing that, because we need that. We need that size advantage in there.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Megan Gustafson as a starter
Opponent Points Rebounds Blocks
Purdue 7 0 1
Michigan 10 12 3
Northwestern 15 13 3
Indiana 12 10 0
Michigan State 7 8 2
Ohio State 13 11 1
Minnesota 14 19 2