Zuniga: Gustafson has her best game on the biggest stage

Megan Gustafson had the game of her life as Iowa women's basketball brought home the Big Ten title on Sunday.

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Zuniga: Gustafson has her best game on the biggest stage

Iowa center Megan Gustafson smiles after receiving the

Iowa center Megan Gustafson smiles after receiving the "Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten Tournament" during the women's Big Ten Championship basketball game vs. Maryland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, March 10, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins 90-76 and are the Big Ten champions.

Katina Zentz

Iowa center Megan Gustafson smiles after receiving the "Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten Tournament" during the women's Big Ten Championship basketball game vs. Maryland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, March 10, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins 90-76 and are the Big Ten champions.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa center Megan Gustafson smiles after receiving the "Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten Tournament" during the women's Big Ten Championship basketball game vs. Maryland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, March 10, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins 90-76 and are the Big Ten champions.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

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INDIANAPOLIS – In the final press conference of the regular season, Iowa’s head coach Lisa Bluder was asked to talk about what Megan Gustafson meant to her team.

She struggled to come up with the right words.

After watching Gustafson pour in a remarkable 45 points to help the Iowa women’s basketball team win the Big Ten Championship game, I understand Bluder’s loss for words.

Last year, when Gustafson scored 48 points in a losing effort to Minnesota, I thought that was the best performance she would have in an Iowa uniform. I was wrong.

This was her greatest performance yet. She baffled the Maryland defense all night long, getting every point she wanted inside, making 17-of-24.

“We tried everything at her,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “ We had no answer (for) Gustafson. She’s  just that good.”

Of course, her impact was not limited to just scoring. She grabbed 10 rebounds to complete her 30th double-double of the season and also swatted away 3 would-be Maryland buckets.

Gustafson’s performance Sunday–and the rest of the Tournament, is even more incredible when factoring in how much of every teams’ defensive game plan was geared toward stopping her.

Last night, Rutgers actually had a solid defensive outing, holding her to just 20 points, however, it was obvious minutes into Sunday’s game that that wasn’t going to happen again.

She had 26 at halftime, and followed that up with a 12 point third quarter, and probably would’ve reached the half-century mark had the game been tighter down the stretch.

Still, it was a performance that left her teammates and fans in admiration.

“Wow. Just wow. I don’t know if you can say anything else about that,” Tania Davis said.

Sunday’s outing, along with averaging 31.6 points 13 rebounds and racking up 10 total blocks throughout the tournament, was good enough to win her MVP of the tournament.

To this team, Gustafson has been more than just the most valuable player for a weekend, she just may be the greatest Hawkeye basketball player of all-time. Kathleen Doyle sure thinks so.

“Megan’s the GOAT (greatest of all time),” Kathleen Doyle said. “There’s no denying that now.”

What makes Gustafson so special, however, is that winning MVP clearly meant nothing to her. She just wanted to win a Championship with Iowa.

“I think if she put up 5 points and we still won, she would’ve loved it just as much.,” Davis said. “That’s the type of person she is.”

That mindset was evident during the Championship ceremony, as she pointed to her teammates as she was recognized and looked visibly embarrassed when the fans and her teammates began chanting her name.

But that’s just who Gustafson is. She’s carried herself through some tough years with the same kind of humility and grace as she won with.

Luckily, her career isn’t done yet. With the win Sunday night, Iowa now has secured a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will likely host the first two rounds.

Those two games will be the last chance to catch the Gustafson-show in Iowa City before it leaves town for good. Trust me, it’s a show you won’t want to miss.