Gustafson leads Hawkeyes into season of big expectations

Iowa women’s basketball enters the season with high expectations.

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Gustafson leads Hawkeyes into season of big expectations

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson attempts a shot during the Iowa/Penn State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson attempts a shot during the Iowa/Penn State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Lily Smith

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson attempts a shot during the Iowa/Penn State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson attempts a shot during the Iowa/Penn State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

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In March, the Iowa women’s basketball team lost a heartbreaker to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a game everybody expected the Hawkeyes to win, so to end the season with that loss stung Iowa.

Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, on Monday they played Creighton in a closed scrimmage, proving to themselves that they are in fact the better team, beating the Bluejays by 15.

“We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” guard Makenzie Meyer said. “We wanted to get some revenge after that NCAA Tournament loss.”

With that bit of vengeance out of the way, the Hawkeyes will turn toward this season, in which they will try to validate their preseason No. 13 ranking.

Living up to the hype

In years past, Iowa has been overlooked.

With the new AP rankings pegging it as a top-15 team this year, that is no longer the case.

The Hawkeyes have also been picked to finish second in the Big Ten, and they have two players named first-team All-Big Ten.

While the hype is certainly welcomed by The Hawkeyes are well aware of how insignificant it will be come March.

“Preseason rankings are really exciting just to build that optimism,” forward Megan Gustafson said. “But at the same time, they don’t mean a lot because we have to earn that. So trying to live up to those expectations is exciting.”

RELATED: Gustafson named Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year

Iowa won’t have to wait long to prove itself — it boasts a tough nonconference schedule that features heading to No. 1 Notre Dame and playing in the Junkandoo Jam tourney, which includes such teams as West Virginia and Florida State.

This is all different for a squad that is used to having to prove people wrong — proving people right is the name of the game this time around.

“There is a lot of excitement around our team,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think they’re enjoying the experience. I want them to have the confidence that they can perform [up to] the accolades that we’re receiving right now.”

Gustafson reigns supreme

For Iowa basketball, there is no bigger story heading into the season than Gustafson.

She is coming off a legendary season in which she led the nation in points per game (25.7), field-goal percentage (67.1), and field goals made (320), along with being top-10 in six other categories.

Gustafson also rewrote several Iowa school records, including the single-season point record, which she broke by a whopping 151 points.

For that, she was honored as Co-Big Ten Player of the Year and earned All-American honors.

This season, she has been named preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. Bluder admits there might be somewhat of a drop-off in production this season, but even with a slight drop-off, Gustafson can be one of the best players in the country.

“She’s just a phenomenal player,” guard Kathleen Doyle said. “She just doesn’t miss [shots]. She works so hard at it and is so humble. She makes it so fun to play with her.”

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