IOWA CITY — There’s an interesting, fun college basketball story developing here.
The Iowa women’s hoops team is on the verge of breaking into the national rankings. The Hawkeyes improved to 10-1 after downing Arkansas-Pine Bluff 85-45 Saturday afternoon in a predictably uncompetitive game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa’s lone loss was a 94-93 decision to unbeaten, current-No. 10 Florida State. The Hawkeyes play the way basketball should be played. The tempo is fast. The team has an inside-outside game with quick and good passing. And, the players can shoot.
Iowa is among the nation’s top five teams in field goal shooting at 51.6 percent. It outrebounds opponents by 11 per game. It makes 39 percent of its 3-pointers and 77.8 percent of its free throws.
Saturday, the Hawkeyes had 23 assists on 28 baskets. They average 24 assists.
“We value assists,” Coach Lisa Bluder said. “We celebrate assists. We love assists.”
Maybe it’s time for the athletic department to start hard-selling this program to the public. It could start with a campaign to create more awareness about 6-foot-3 junior Megan Gustafson, one of the great stories in college ball.
Gustafson had 19 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes Saturday, a huge day for most but a quiet one for her. It was her 10th double-double of the season. She is consistently great, averaging 21.5 points and 12.4 rebounds. But it’s a team, not a star surrounded by attendants.
Six other Hawkeyes average between 8 and 12 points. Tania Davis and Makenzie Meyer each dish five assists per game.
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This is a very good team with an elite post player in Gustafson, one of the great recruiting “gets” in Bluder’s 18 years as Iowa’s coach.
Gustafson is from Port Wing, Wis. It’s 345 miles from Madison on the state’s northern tip, on the shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 350, though it’s been said that’s only if you count the cats and dogs.
When Iowa started recruiting Gustafson, in her freshman year of high school, Port Wing had no cellphone service. “Now there’s a cell tower,” Bluder said.
Gustafson played at South Shore High School in Port Wing. Her class had 11 students. So does this year’s senior class. Her father, Clendon Gustafson, is the school’s superintendent/principal and mother Eva is a physical therapist there and at other schools in the area. They were South Shore graduates in 1981.
An annual Christmas-break basketball tourney involving South Shore is called the Best of the Least, with the teams of Wisconsin’s four smallest schools gathering.
Yet, Wisconsin’s all-time top two girls’ prep basketball scorers come from South Shore. No. 2 is Jolene Anderson, who became the University of Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer and was the Big Ten’s Player of the Year in 2008 as a senior. No. 1 is Gustafson, who had 3,229 points.
At Iowa, with a season-and-a-half left, she has 1,216 points, 706 rebounds and 120 blocked shots.
“We hoped for good things,” Clendon Gustafson said. “But that she was on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team and last year was first-team All-Big Ten is kind of mind-blowing.”
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Wednesday, Gustafson was bottled throughout the Hawkeyes’ 61-55 triumph over Iowa State, their first win in Ames since 1989. She was held to eight shots, yet managed 16 points.
“Eerily efficient,” is how Iowa State Coach Bill Fennelly described her after the game.
“Before that game Megan was watching film,” Bluder said. “I told her ‘You know they’re going to double-team and even triple-team you.’ She said ‘I don’t care as long as we win,’ and she was beaming.
“A lot of players would say that, but it wouldn’t be true. She leads by example.”
Asked how good her team can be, Gustafson said “I think we’re pretty awesome right now. I think we can compete with anyone in the country.”
Her head coach didn’t temper that, saying “I hope people realize how good this team can be. I think we can be really good. I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”
“Fight for Iowa” is Iowa’s athletic marketing slogan this school year. This women’s team should drop that and roll with “Eerily Efficient.”