IOWA CITY, Ia. — Megan Gustafson has a nasty habit of making post play look like child’s play.
The sophomore from Port Wing, Wis., scored 21 points and grabbed four rebounds Tuesday in a loss at Penn State — a mediocre stat line for her. Against Nebraska, she notched 22 points and nine rebounds, one shy of her ninth double-double. That's more par for Gustafson's course.
Yes. A 22-point, nine-rebound performance is par. It’s become too easy to gloss over Gustafson's gaudy numbers. She's made them routine.
"I know. I look at it like, 'Why didn’t you get one more rebound again?'" Iowa coach Lisa Bluder chuckled after the Nebraska game. "You start kind of expecting that out of her, that double-double and shooting 60 percent and better. And yeah, you look at her 9-for-12, and it’s like, 'Hmmm.' That’s amazing. Those are amazing numbers. And honestly, Megan is a workhorse. She’s an amazing kid and she works hard like that every day."
Gustafson's scored 20 or more points eight times this season, including the past five games. She's been named to the Big Ten player of the week honor roll twice through the first two weeks of conference play. So let’s blink a couple times and focus on the Gustafson numbers we may have dismissed as commonplace.
The 6-foot-3 forward leads Iowa with 17.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. She also leads the team and the Big Ten with a 66.9 field goal percentage (117-for-175), which ranks fourth nationally. She’s fourth in the Big Ten with 6.4 defensive rebounds per game and tied for second with 3.5 offensive boards per game. She’s ninth in the country with eight double-doubles through Iowa’s 16 games.
Other than Gustafson, only two other players in the country rank in the top 20 in double-doubles and the top five in field goal percentage: South Carolina’s Alaina Coates and Maryland’s Brionna Jones, both future WNBA players.
"She might be — and this is a really bold statement because I’ve coached for a long time now — she might be the hardest worker I’ve ever coached," Bluder said. "She works hard all the time, every possession. And even in practice, I’m thinking of ways to take her out of drills because she just works so hard all the time. It’s pretty amazing. When you work that hard and you’re that positive, good things happen to you. And she’s a great example of that."
Gustafson was a four-star, ESPN top-100 recruit last year coming out of South Shore High. There, she became Wisconsin’s all-time girls’ high school scoring leader and the only girl to ever top 3,000 points (she scored 3,229).
At this point last season, she was averaging nine points and 4.6 rebounds en route to an All-Big Ten freshmen team selection. She was good. Great for a freshman, even. But too often she was out-muscled in the paint by the tree-trunk bigs of the Big Ten. She clearly needed time in the weight room.
"Coming into freshman year, I really hadn’t lifted at all. I mean, I’d done a little bit," Gustafson said this preseason. "But I just really didn’t know how to utilize my strength and I guess I really didn’t know how strong I was. And so this offseason I spent the summer pushing myself, my teammates were pushing me, just to try my best and I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger."
The results? Well, the new-look Gustafson got her first real opportunity to show off Nov. 11 in the season opener against Oral Roberts. Her game: a career-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go along with 12 boards. It was an exhibit of complete dominance, interrupted only by Carver Hawkeye Arena's fire alarms going off in the second quarter.
"Megan was pretty hot at the time," Ally Disterhoft joked.
Through three games this year against Big Ten forwards, Gustafson is scoring 21.3 points on 63.9 percent shooting, seventh and fourth in the conference, respectively.
In nonconference play, she recorded 15 points and seven rebounds against UCLA's Monique Billings, and she arguably outplayed future WNBA All-Star Brianna Turner of Notre Dame.
Gustafson scored 16 on 7-for-9 shooting and grabbed 11 boards against the Irish, while AP All-American Turner scored 15 on 6-for-11 shooting and grabbed four boards.
Next week she draws a matchup with Maryland’s Jones. Just another in a weekly Russian roulette of challenges for Gustafson. She mostly played underdog in those battles last season.
Not this season.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.