By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Megan Gustafson is well on her way to becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the Iowa women’s basketball program.
The 6-foot-3 junior center/forward made first-team All-Big Ten last season and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen team two years ago.
Gustafson also returns as the third best field goal percentage shooter in the country from last season at 64.7 percent, and she averaged a double-double last season in scoring and rebounding with averages of 18.5 and 10.1, respectively.
There is so much to like about Gustafson’s first two seasons as a Hawkeye, but also one thing that she doesn’t like about it, which is back-to-back seasons with no NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I think there is an extra chip on my shoulder, I know that is the case for my teammates, especially in my class,” Gustafson said Monday at Iowa’s annual media day event. “We haven't experienced that at all and we’ve heard so much about how amazing it is to be in the NCAA Tournament.
“So we’re extra ready to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
The fact that Iowa had played in eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments when Gustafson joined the program as a freshman in 2015 adds to her frustration, but also makes her more determined.
“Yes it does,” she said. “We were the first class coming in to end that. So we’re really excited to get back out there and add some more NCAA trips.”
Gustafson is also excited to be back out on the court with sophomore point guard Tania Davis, who missed the final 11 games last season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.
“It’s amazing having her back doing her Tania moves,” Gustafson said. “It’s awesome just to have her there on the team and on the floor. We’re really excited to have her back.”
The 5-foot-3 Davis was averaging 10.9 points per game and had dished out 98 assists and made 23 steals when she was injured.
When healthy, Davis gives Iowa a dynamic point guard who can run the offense, but also score when needed off both penetration and from long range.
“Putting in the amount of work that I’ve put in in the offseason just to get back here and to be the exact same player, if not a better player than what I was before I left, that’s what is driving me right now,” Davis said. “Just to be able to make the moves that I made previously in practice, it’s given me a whole lot of confidence and just making me positive again.”
Davis is a favorite with the fans because of her hustle and grit and because of her style of play.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was reminded of that after Davis was injured.
“I can't go anywhere without everybody asking me, whether at the grocery store, the gas station, or wherever, how's Tania doing?” Bluder said. “I know people are very interested in knowing. I know I probably have the biggest smile on my face about this one — she's doing really well and way ahead of schedule. I anticipated having her back by Christmas, but she will be suited up and ready to go for the first game. Again, nobody's happier about that one than me.”
Every team is hungry and determined at media day and the players always say the right things to help convey that message.
But Bluder can sense that her current team is more determined than usual after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.
“They feel like we have not met expectations, and I don’t know if that’s fair because we did lose a lot from the past years” Bluder said of key players graduating. “But at the same time, our Big Ten Conference has grown. We’ve added Maryland. We’ve added Rutgers. It’s gotten tougher to make it there.
“But it is kind of the expectation. That’s what we recruit to. So I love that they’re driven like that.”
One of the biggest challenge for this season will be learning to play without small forward Ally Disterhoft, who finished her career last season as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer.
“She was a four-year starter for us, just an amazing basketball player and obviously a tremendous student as well,” Bluder ssid of Disterhoft. “But one person is not going to replace Ally. Just like one person can't replace Sam Logic. Everybody's got to get better. For us to replace Ally, it's got to be a group effort.
“I believe our team is up to the challenge. I think they did a great job this summer and are embracing that, that Ally was going to be gone and that we all need to get better, and I feel like they did.”
Bluder only has 11 players on the current roster, including three sophomores, one redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. So depth could be a concern if injuries occur.
Sophomore Kathleen Doyle will combine with Davis and fellow sophomore Makenzie Meyer to give Iowa a versatile backcourt.
Doyle averaged 9.2 points per game last season and made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team. Bluder plans to use her and Davis both at point guard.
“They'll definitely share the role,” Bluder said. “We're going to have a system that really, I think, showcases both of their abilities at point guard even when they're on the floor at the same time.
Senior post player Chase Coley is also expected to have a key role this seson. The 6-3 Minneapolis native struggled at times last season, but had a solid sophomore campaign while starting 31 games.
"She had such a good sophomore year, and then last year she kind of struggled a little bit," Bluder said. "I feel like what I've seen after our first 15 practices is she's back to that sophomore form. She runs the floor so well. She's got a beautiful left hand, beautiful touch. So I'm hoping we get that back.'
As for Gustafson role, Bluder just wants her to keep playing at a level that separates her from most post players.
“I think she is definitely already as a junior one of best post players in the Midwest, maybe even in America, I think she’s that good,” Bluder said. “I think she can be a first-round draft pick. I just feel like she is the whole package because she’s got the height, she embraces the contact, she’s an unbelievable shooter and rebounder, and she’s got the mentality, too. She’s mentally so strong and just works so hard all the time.”
Gustafson said her only concern at this point is team-oriented goals. She already has proven herself as a player, but it’s the team aspect where she has come up short.
There were signs of the team aspect at media day as the Iowa players wore the new gold jerseys that don’t have the names of the players on the back.
“Some of our jerseys have names on them and some of them don’t Bluder said. “It is new that we don’t have them on the gold (uniforms) and we have the tiger hawk instead. It really is symbolic of team. We’re playing for Iowa instead of the name on the back of jersey.”