Small-town girl Gustafson makes big-time impact at Iowa
There's a tiny, modest little town near Lake Superior in the northernmost part of Wisconsin called Port Wing.
The combined middle school and high school, South Shore, has about 50 students.
And yet, a microscopic talent pool seems to be no problem for the South Shore High School girls basketball program, which is churning out some of the best players in state history.
About 15 years ago, Jolene Anderson of South Shore set the Wisconsin state scoring record with 2,881 career points. Anderson went on to play at the University of Wisconsin and became the all-time leading scorer there, too.
Anderson's state scoring record held for 10 years, until, believe it or not, another South Shore superstar broke it.
Megan Gustafson rolled up 3,229 points before graduating with her 10 other South Shore classmates (yep, the senior class had 11 students) in 2015.
Ironically, just like Anderson, Gustafson is also now the all-time leading scorer in her college program, at Iowa.
In fact, Gustafson, for two straight years now in spite of regular double and triple teams, has led the entire nation in scoring and field goal percentage, and that impressive feat is a big reason this big, (Gustafson is a 6-foot-3) small-town girl was named the national player of the year Friday by ESPN.
Gustafson, who was also named the Big Ten player of the year and led Iowa to the Big Ten tournament championship on Sunday by scoring 45 points and pulling down 10 rebounds against Maryland in the title game, has scored 2,700 points over her career for an average of 20.6 points over her four years. This season, she averaged a double-double: a nation-leading 28 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game.
Oh yeah, and she hit an amazing 69.6 percent of her shots, also tops in the nation.
Last year, Gustafson was at 25.7 points per game while shooting at a 67.1 percent clip, both tops in the nation as well.
"Nothing she does surprises me anymore," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told ESPN. "Whatever we give her, she just goes after it and she does it."
Thanks in large part to Gustafson, Iowa has been ranked in the national Top 25 all season, and is currently ranked No. 8. The Hawkeyes will get a good seed in the NCAA tournament, which will get started next weekend.
Gustafson has played in the NCAA tournament only once, and that showing last year ended in the first round with a loss to Creighton.
That won't be acceptable to Gustafson this year.
In fact, an end of any kind will be hard for the senior to swallow. She's not ready for her illustrious career to be over. Neither, undoubtedly, are Iowa fans who adore their small-town girl.
"Our (team) Twitter account will tweet out something like, 'Only six more chances to see us.' And I'm like, 'Nooooo, don't say that!'" Gustafson said. "So, it's starting to sink in a little bit that my time's winding down."
The NCAA will announce the entire 64-team women's tournament field on Monday with a selection show broadcast by ESPN.
The show tips off at 6 p.m. with interviews with select coaches as the brackets are announced. The destination this year for the Women's Final Four is Tampa.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw