IOWA CITY — Megan Gustafson and Bridget Carleton are at the core of what the women’s basketball teams at Iowa and Iowa State are all about this season.
But, it wouldn’t surprise coaches in today’s 7 p.m. Cy-Hawk Series match-up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena if the All-American talents aren’t the difference-makers when the Hawkeyes and Cyclones renew acquaintances.
“You see that all the time in a game like this. Someone unexpected jumps up and does something they may never do again or may do for the first time,’’ ISU coach Bill Fennelly said. “We tell our kids, it takes 40 minutes to play the game, but you have a lifetime to brag about it.’’
With 16th-ranked Iowa off to a 5-2 start and Iowa State at 6-1 and receiving votes in this week’s Associated Press poll, there is some added enthusiasm for this year’s game.
“It’s hard not to get juiced up about your instate rivals, especially when they’re good and this year, they’re good,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
That goodness begins inside for the Hawkeyes with Gustafson and on the perimeter for the Cyclones with Carleton.
The two seniors have led their teams to dominant starts to the season.
Gustafson, named the Big Ten player of the week in each of the first four weeks of the season, enters tonight’s game on the brink of two milestones.
She needs four rebounds to become the Hawkeyes’ career rebounding leader, currently three boards away from the 1,067 rebounds that Cindy Haugejorde grabbed during her career from 1976-80.
“Rebounding has always been a big part of what I do and that is a record that means a lot to me,’’ Gustafson said. “There are a lot of those things as a senior that are going to be part of my season, but mostly my focus is on the team and winning games. That is really the only thing that matters to me.’’
Gustafson also enters the game 23 points away from becoming the third Hawkeye to score 2,000 points in her career, closing in on the school record of 2,102 set by Ally Disterhoft from 2014-17.
In addition to averaging 24.9 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, Gustafson is shooting a nation-leading 77 percent from the field.
“Her numbers are staggering,’’ Fennelly said. “I’m not sure if we could shoot 77 percent in a 5-on-0 drill.’’
Carleton has been equally proficient for Iowa State, albeit in a different way.
She currently averages 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Cyclones.
“Bridget Carleton is an amazing basketball player who is a real handful to guard,’’ Bluder said. “She’s so effective in so many ways, shooting the 3-pointer, driving and posting up.’’
Bluder said defending the Cyclones begins with defending Carleton.
“Keeping the ball out of her hands is important,’’ Bluder said. “Once she gets the ball, she is pretty darn effective and almost everything runs through her.’’
Iowa has been at its best when it has worked through Gustafson, as well.
“I don’t think you can stop her,’’ Fennelly said. “I think the best you can do is try to slow her down, but she is surrounded by good skill players as well.’’
The Hawkeyes have won the last two games in the series, ending a 10-year string of success by the home team when they won for the first time at Hilton Coliseum since 1989 with a 61-55 win a year ago.
The Cyclones haven’t won at Iowa since 2006, losing give games since by an average of 14.2 points.
“We haven’t played well over there for a long, long time,’’ Fennelly said. “We really haven’t given ourselves a chance and this time, we’ll need to play our best game of the year.’’