Today’s game against Michigan State was about the past. Megan Gustafson was the best basketball player to ever wear an Iowa jersey. Off the court, she’s an even better person. Humble and strong. An inspiration to fans all across the state. Iowa honored her today by retiring her jersey. No Iowa player will ever wear #10 again.
But today was also about the present. At tip, Iowa held a narrow half-game lead in the Big Ten standings over Northwestern and Maryland after the Terrapins beat the Wildcats earlier today. A victory would give Iowa a one-game lead over both, with an added bonus that Iowa holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over both teams as well.
And today’s game was also about the future. Showing recruits that Iowa is here to stay as one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Building an exciting core that can lead future teams to success for years to come.
This game was a slog. For three and a half quarters, Iowa didn’t have it offensively. Their passes weren’t crisp. They barely made a three-pointer. Even layups were a problem.
But despite that, Iowa continued to fight defensively. They made every possession for Michigan State difficult. They limited penetration and won the rebounding battle.
With 4:52 to play, the game was tied at 53. Once again Iowa was in a close game late where every possession is vital.
And once again, Iowa answered the bell. This time, it was freshman McKenna Warnock who led the heroics. Warnock was forced into more second half action than normal due to a Monika Czinano ankle injury in the third quarter. She took full advantage.
Out of the under-5 timeout, Warnock hit two free throws, then made another basket on the next possession. The Hawkeyes and Spartans then traded buckets, before Warnock hit a three and drew an and-1 in consecutive possessions. Warnock hit the free throw, and suddenly Iowa led 65-55 with 2:12 to play.
In a little over two and a half minutes, Warnock had scored 10 points and helped Iowa build a 10-point lead. Iowa cruised home from there, winning by a score of 74-57. Iowa ended up outscoring Michigan State 28-9 in the fourth quarter.
Warnock led Iowa with 22 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 15 of her points in the fourth quarter alone. Kathleen Doyle added 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 7 assists. It wasn’t her best shooting night (7/21 overall, 0/5 from 3-point range), but she still impacted the game in a lot of different ways. Makenzie Meyer and Amanda Ollinger were the last two Hawkeyes in double figures with 13 and 10 respectively. A box score for the game is here.
Warnock’s potential has been evident since the season started. At her best, she’s a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. She’s an excellent three-point shooter, and also good at dribbling in from the perimeter and finishing around the basket. She’s also a sneaky good passer, and can rebound well too. Today, she combined all those skills into a phenomenal performance.
And the best part of Warnock’s breakout performance here is that she still has three more years left to develop her skills. Combine her offensive talent with Czinano’s post offense and Caitlin Clark’s abilities at point guard, and Iowa already has a solid offensive core for years to come.
And there’s reason to believe that more talent high level players could be joining them soon. This year, Iowa has been in the mix for many of the top recruits in the Midwest for the class of 2021 and 2022. And per Jeff Linder from The Gazette, one of those recruits has just committed to Iowa, joining AJ Ediger (a Top 60 recruit from Michigan) in the class of 2021.
Finally, Iowa has a commitment from a high school junior. To allow her to tell the other recruiting schools of her decision, we will release that story Wednesday AM.— Jeff Linder (@jtlinder) January 27, 2020
Last year’s Elite 8, this year’s surprising run, and Clark’s commitment have all helped Iowa see an uptick in recruiting. Combine that with the already solid core, and Iowa looks like it has a bright future. Down the road, we might look back on last year and this year as the start of something big for the program.
Megan Gustafson’s jersey retirement ceremony was awesome. You can see some of it here:
Much has already been written about Megan. What she accomplished on the court. The type of person she is off it. How great a representative she is for the University we all love.
I thought the video tributes from the coaches, players, and fans were particularly fitting. As Megan has mentioned numerous times, she didn’t accomplish so much on her own. Her family helped her become the person that she is. The coaches helped mold her into the player that she is. And the players helped her score all those buckets and grab all those rebounds. Basketball is one big family, and today Megan’s family got to celebrate with her.
It’s also fitting that Gustafson’s name and number will hang in the rafters forever. She’s the gold standard. The type of person you should strive to be. The work ethic you should strive to have. The greatness you should strive to achieve. And now every Hawkeye that wears the black and gold will know of that legacy. They’ll know how high the bar is set.
Iowa returns to action on Thursday, January 30 at 6 PM CT on the road at Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 7-13 on the season and 1-8 in conference play. Still, every road game in the Big Ten this year is a battle. And Iowa can’t afford a road slip up if they want to win the Big Ten. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus.