Leistikow: Even on Senior Day, Iowa's Megan Gustafson just keeps getting better
IOWA CITY, Ia. — More than an hour after her final regular-season home game, the most prolific player in Iowa basketball history was still wearing her jersey. Still signing autographs. Still laughing and mingling with her fans.
Megan Gustafson was happy to soak in every drop of her Senior Day experience.
And Hawkeye fans are trying to savor all they can of Gustafson, as her incredible career winds down.
The nation’s most dominant player racked up another 34 points to go with 12 rebounds as 11th-ranked Iowa put the clamps on Northwestern, 74-50, before a season-high 12,051 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With her 12th straight game of scoring at least 25 points — think about that for a moment, considering the nation’s second-leading scorer averages barely over 25 — Gustafson couldn’t have had a more fitting regular-season finale.
“This has been one of the best years of my life,” she told the crowd after the game, holding a microphone and flashing her omnipresent smile.
It was a Senior Day celebration not only for her, but teammates Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis, as well.
Davis chipped in seven points and four assists in 30 efficient minutes. She wasn’t even supposed to be here, really, after tearing an ACL in each knee in her sophomore and junior years.
Stewart was fantastic, with a well-rounded 12 points, six rebounds and six assists. Without her complementary play in the post, Gustafson doesn’t rack up her video-game numbers night after night.
“It’s such an honor to play in front of so many fans,” Stewart said, “who love you and invest in you.”
All three Hawkeyes honored Sunday warrant immense praise.
They’ve spear-headed a group that charges into the postseason with a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament within reach. Though the Hawkeyes (23-6, 14-4) fell one game short of the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship, a shot at the league tournament title begins Friday as a No. 2 seed.
This team has the tools for a Sweet 16 run.
If anyone could have a quiet 10-point first half, Gustafson did as the Hawkeyes were holding a narrow 28-23 lead.
After the break, though, she took over.
Gustafson scored 12 points in the third quarter, and another 12 in fourth as Iowa pulled away. She made nine of her 10 tries from the floor, all six from the free-throw line. Her wickedly unfair interior moves overwhelmed the helpless Wildcats.
Each left-handed lay-in off the glass attracted more roars than the last.
“I honestly believe we wear people down,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “Sooner or later, we will wear them down.”
That’s what Gustafson does.
As the game clock trickled toward a close, the fans took to their feet, anticipating when Gustafson would come off the floor for the last time. After she spun to the basket with the right hand for points 31 and 32, Bluder shuttled Monika Czinano to the scorer’s table.
But before the next dead ball, Gustafson had one more bucket in her arsenal. A left-handed lay-in with 2:06 to play gave Iowa a 72-46 lead — and Bluder a chance to call a timeout to give Gustafson a hearty, long exit to the bench.
She hugged her teammates, hugged her coach and waved to the crowd.
“This place is so special. Tania and Hannah can say the same thing," Gustafson said "... We’ve made some incredible memories on this court. We definitely want to keep it going. We’re going to keep fighting like crazy to get that hosting seed.”
With Sunday’s win, Iowa is well-positioned to earn a top-four seed to get first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Carver-Hawkeye — where it completed a 15-0 regular season.
With Gustafson, anything seems possible.
Her machine-like production has her up to 2,605 career points. She’s upped her scoring average this season to 27.7 points, tops in the country by more than two per game. She’s averaging 29.8 points in this current 12-game run of scoring 25-plus.
After a 14-of-17 shooting night, she’s up to an unthinkable 70.8 percent field-goal success rate for the season. That’s also a natio
It’s hard to believe, but Gustafson is continuing to get even more dominant.
Her No. 10 jersey wasn't retired Sunday, but it will be someday.
For now, she's still wearing it. Even through the autographs. The Port Wing, Wisconsin, native hopes she can keep it on for a long March run.
As her speech came to a close, she had a few more thank-yous — first to the coaching staff.
“Thanks for finding me. I don’t know how you did, to be honest,” she said. “But I’m thankful for that. And thanks, Hawk fans, for believing in this small-town girl."
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.