The decision was split, but as usual the first Iowa women’s basketball player to be named the Big Ten player of the year in two decades takes it all in stride.
Hawkeye post player Megan Gustafson, a junior who leads the nation in scoring at 25.3 points per game and ranks in the top five in the country in eight statistical categories, was named Monday by media who cover the conference as the Big Ten’s best player.
“This means a lot. I’ve put in a lot of hard work the past three-plus years, but I see this as a team award,’’ Gustafson said Monday in an interview on the Big Ten Network after the honor was announced. “I wouldn’t have been able to have done any of this without my teammates.’’
Conference coaches handed the honor to Ohio State senior Kelsey Mitchell, the third time in her career she has received Big Ten player of the year recognition.
Mitchell then called Gustafson, "a great post player who dominates the glass,'' adding, "much respect for her.''
Both were unanimously chosen as first-team all-conference picks by both groups, who also selected Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty unanimously to the first team.
Gustafson is the fifth Hawkeye to earn conference player of the year honors, but the first to win the award since Tangela Smith in 1998 and the first Iowa junior to receive an award which was also won by Michelle Edwards in 1988, Franthea Price in 1990 and Toni Foster in 1993.
“It’s exciting to be compared to the great players who have come through here and who have played in the Big Ten,’’ Gustafson said.
Her work has helped Iowa build a 23-6 record heading into this week’s Big Ten tourney, including an 11-5 conference mark and a share of third place.
In Big Ten games, Gustafson scored 20 or more points in 15 of the 16 league games while averaging 27.7 points and 13.1 rebounds per game and shooting a league-leading 64.7 percent from the field.
She established Iowa single-season scoring and rebounding records last week during a game at Rutgers, breaking a 38-year-old scoring mark and topping her own rebounding record set a year ago.
The 6-foot-3 native of Port Wing, Wisconsin said she has found success by putting her “heart and soul into every single practice and every single game.’’
Earlier Monday, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder echoed that sentiment.
“I think she approaches every practice and every game the same,’’ Bluder said. “Every practice is like a game for her. Some kids have practice speed and game speed. There’s no difference with Megan. It’s all the same speed and I think that helps her.’’
Gustafson earned first team all-Big Ten honors for the second straight season.
Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle earned second team all-conference recognition from league coaches and was awarded honorable mention from conference media. Both groups named Illinois' Alex Wittinger to the second team.
Doyle, a sophomore, averaged 12.6 points and a Big Ten-leading 7.5 assists, per game in addition to scoring in double figures in 11 of the Hawkeyes’ 16 conference games.
Junior Hannah Stewart was named as Iowa’s Big Ten sportsmanship honoree.