Zuniga: Gustafson shows underrated defense in win over Rutgers

Most of the attention surrounding Megan Gustafson rightfully focuses on her offensive skills. However, she’s just as remarkable on the defensive side.

Iowa+center+Megan+Gustafson+fights+for+the+ball+during+the+womens+Big+Ten+tournament+basketball+game+vs.+Rutgers+at+Bankers+Life+Fieldhouse+on+Saturday%2C+March+9%2C+2019.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Scarlet+Knights+72-67+and+will+be+moving+on+to+the+championship+game+against+Maryland.+%28Katina+Zentz%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29

Katina Zentz

Iowa center Megan Gustafson fights for the ball during the women’s Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Rutgers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 72-67 and will be moving on to the championship game against Maryland. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

For the first time since 2014, Iowa women’s basketball has a date in the Big Ten Championship game.

No. 10 Iowa clinched that spot after a 72-67 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.

Per usual, it was Megan Gustafson who lead Iowa in both points and rebounds with 20 and 12, respectively.

An average basketball player might celebrate that performance, but for the superhuman-Gustafson, it was pedestrian.

Especially early on, when she only managed to make 1 of her first 7 shots. Much of Rutgers’ success on defense came from its overwhelming defensive pressure

Instead of losing her cool, she bared down on the defensive end.

“I was really focusing on other things,” Gustafson said. “Whether it was rebounding or blocking my shots, that’s what I was really focusing on.”

Really, Gustafson has always played well defensively. Maybe it got buried under all her other awards and accolades, but she did make the first team All-Defense for the Big Ten.

The problem for Gustafson’s defense, is that offense has all the pretty numbers while defensive stats often get forgotten.

However, Gustafson has put up those defensive stats so far in this year’s Big Ten Tournament; through two games, she has totaled 7 blocks.

Three of those came Saturday night against Rutgers, including a sequence in the first half where she blocked Stasha Carey on back-to-back shots.

Even when she doesn’t get a hand on a shot, she forces opponents to alter their shot, which means she probably causes more misses than there are stats for.

The other thing that makes her so effective on the defensive end is her ability to stay out of foul trouble. In her four-year career, she’s played in 130 games and only fouled out of 5 of them.

That’s an impressive feat. Gustafson has racked up a lot of stats that get talked about constantly, however, perhaps she wouldn’t be able to put up the numbers she has if she took more early showers.

Gustafson also racks up a significant amount of defensive rebounds too, which is paramount to any defensive team, just ask head coach Lisa Bluder.

“We talk about it every time,” Bluder said. “You’ve got to finish the defense with a rebound. She does a great job on both ends of the floor for us.”

She totaled 9 of them Saturday and has stacked up 23 so far this weekend which has been a big reason why Iowa has been able to be so solid defensively this weekend.

That defense will be needed again tomorrow night, as they will go against No. 8 Maryland who boasts the third best offense in the Big Ten.

While defense was certainly the focal point of Gustafson’s night, her team still had confidence that she would produce on the other end of the floor.

“We knew that the odds were in our favor (to win the game) when we’re up 10 and Megan goes 1 for 7,” Hannah Stewart said. “Like, obviously, she’s going to come back and have a million points.”

She finished the first quarter with just 2 points, and while she didn’t quite come back with “a million points,” Gustafson lead the Hawkeyes the rest of the way with 18 points.

Iowa will play in the championship game Sunday at 5 p.m. (Iowa time) against No. 8 Maryland, the game will be televised on ESPN2.

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