GREENSBORO, N.C. — Megan Gustafson vowed to wear her jersey “extra long” Monday night.
“I’m just so thankful to wear an Iowa uniform, to compete at this level,” she said. “I’m going to keep it on as long as I can.”
That was in the locker room, maybe a half-hour after top-ranked Baylor eliminated the No. 8 Hawkeyes, 85-53, in an NCAA women’s basketball regional final at Greenboro Coliseum.
It was after an emotional moment on the stage in the adjacent theater, when asked about her legacy.
“I just tried to do my job here,” she said, fighting tears and losing the battle. “I just tried to work hard every single day.
“God has just blessed me with the ability to play basketball, and I am so, so glad the University of Iowa chose me, and I chose them.”
Gustafson bowed out with a 23-point, nine-rebound effort, becoming the fourth player in Division-I history to reach quadruple-digits in a season (she finished with 1,001).
It wasn’t Gustafson’s best game — she was 9 of 17 from the field, 5 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“We tried to limit her touches, because we knew she was going to get her points,” Baylor’s Lauren Cox said.
Six-foot-7 Baylor post Kalani Brown said that Gustafson “is really crafty with the ball, really talented. Lauren and I just said, ‘You guard her for one possession, then I’ll guard her the next.’”
Gustafson concluded her brilliant career with 2,804 points and 1,459 rebounds, which rank 24th and 14th all-time in NCAA history. Her 88 double-doubles are No. 4 on the all-time chart.
Earlier Monday, she became the first Iowa player to be named first-team all-American by the Associated Press. Two weeks ago, ESPN selected her as its national player of the year. More national awards are sure to follow.
The numbers and the accolades are just a sliver of the story of the small-town girl from northern Wisconsin that Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder has repeatedly called “a superstar with no ego.”
“Every day, I’m thankful for the relationships I built,” Gustafson said. “Basketball was never a chore with this team.”
Gustafson can wear that jersey as long as she wishes, because it’s a slam dunk that no women’s basketball player at Iowa will ever wear No. 10 again.
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