By DeSherion McBroom | @dvo_maximus
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Megan Gustafson’s 45 points, the most in a championship game of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, led the Iowa Hawkeyes to a 90-76 victory over Maryland. Iowa (26-6) won its third Big Ten tournament title, the first since 2001, and prevented the top-seeded Terrapins from winning an unprecedented fourth Big Ten championship game in five years. Iowa’s 90 points set a new Big Ten Tournament Championship game record.
“We believed we were the best team in the Big Ten and today they came out and they proved it,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “We got one of the best players in America with Megan (Gustafson), but the supporting staff that she has is absolutely amazing.”
Gustafson, a 6-foot, 3-inch senior forward and the Big Ten Player of the Year, made 17-of-24 shots and 11-of-14 free throws. She had 10 rebounds and blocked three shots. Her point total surpassed the championship game record of 35 set by Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender in 2010. Gustafson is the only player with multiple 40-point games in the Big Ten tournament, having set the single-game scoring record of 48 a year ago.
“Do you know how many points you scored?” Gustafson was asked.
“No,” she said.
“Forty-five,” she was told.
“Okay,” Gustafson said.
“I mean, this is a game I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Gustafson said. “We did a wonderful job of just preparing for this tournament. We had a chip on our shoulder. It’s all worth it now.”
Maryland (28-4) lost to Iowa for the second time this season by an average margin of 13.5 points. The Terrapins were led by junior Kaila Charles, who scored 36 points, a career-high, on 15-of-30 shots. She was the only Maryland player member to reach double figures. “It just continues to speak volumes of Kaila and just her will to win, her competitiveness and not to be denied,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. “She just wanted to do whatever she could to be able to put this team on her back to be able to help us in any situation possible.”
Gustafson’s had her 30th double-double of the year and the 12th time this year that she has scored 30 points in a game, which leads the nation.
Her 95 points in the tournament were the third-highest total, behind the 100 points scored by Nia Coffey of Northwestern in 2016 and the 96 scored by Peggy Evans of Ohio State in 1995. Gustafson, the overwhelming choice as Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, was joined on the all-tournament team by Iowa teammate Hannah Stewart, Charles, Ali Patberg of Indiana and Stasha Carey of Rutgers.
“I mean, I hate to single out somebody, but obviously Megan, pretty special kid,” said Bluder.
Stewart scored eight points and had nine rebounds for the Hawkeyes. “I’m super honored,” she said. “I didn’t really expect it, honestly. I think we have five players that could have went on all-tournament team, so I was super shocked, humbly shocked, and very thankful.”
Iowa began to take control of the game with a 19-2 run that put the Hawkeyes ahead, 21-9, with 2:45 to go in the first quarter. It was during that run when a 3-pointer by Iowa junior Makenzie Meyer gave Iowa a 9-7 lead. The Hawkeyes would not trail again for the rest of the game.
Gustafson scored 31 points with 17 rebounds in Iowa’s 86-73 victory on Feb. 17. Her dominance Sunday evening created foul problems for Maryland. Freshman center Olivia Owens picked up her fourth foul with 3:40 to go in the first quarter. Freshman forward Shakira Austin was charged with her third foul with 5:45 left in the second quarter and went to the bench for the rest of the half.
“It was tough,” Frese said. “I think from the very first possession they showed that the game was going to be called really tight, and that impacted us greatly.”
Maryland picked up baskets by Charles, and junior guards Sara Vujacic and Blair Watson to decrease the deficit to as Iowa led 51-45 at the half. Maryland’s 8-0 run during the third quarter, with Charles scoring half of the points, tied the score at 53-53 with 7:21 to go in the period.
But Maryland’s foul problems continued, with Owens fouling out with 4:12 left in the third. Iowa’s 12-4 run over the last 5:02 of the third quarter, with Gustafson scoring six of the points, gave the Hawkeyes a nine-point lead, control of the game, and a championship that will be theirs forever.
“These guys, this is a bond that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives,” Bluder said. “They will always be Big Ten champs, and we will always carry this journey together. And that is something nobody can take away from us, ever.”