Megan Gustafson and Lisa Bluder cap an incredible season with prestigious individual awards

Megan Gustafson cuts down the net at Carver-Hawkeye Arena after advancing to Sweet 16

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Sometimes, the world does make sense.

Something that should happen does happen, and for all of the right reasons.

That was my reaction to learning that Iowa senior center Megan Gustafson had been named the 2019 Naismith Women’s Player of the Year.

Gustafson is the first Big Ten women’s player to earn the award, and she truly did earn it by recording 33 double-doubles this season, and by leading Iowa to the NCAA Elite Eight and to the Big Ten Tournament title.

She also played a key role in helping Iowa coach Lisa Bluder be named the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year for the first time.

Both awards were announced on Saturday and they cap an incredible season for the Iowa women’s basketball team.

For Gustafson, it is the latest in a growing list of individual awards as she was also named the player of the year by ESPNW and by the Associated Press.

The fact that she and Bluder were both recognized on the same day is fitting because they wouldn’t have achieved these accolades without help from each other.

Bluder was great for Gustafson and vice versa.

“I’m so fortunate to play for the greatest head coach and for the greatest coaching staff in the country,” Gustafson said in the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament.

Gustafson is obviously biased where Bluder is concerned, but it’s easy to overlook what Bluder has accomplished in 19 seasons at Iowa.

The Naismith award is without question the pinnacle, and it further validates Bluder’s greatness, if she needed further validation.

It also shows at the risk of sounding kind of corny that good things happen to good people because you won’t find a better person than Lisa Bluder, or Megan Gustafson for that matter.

Bluder is so much more than just a head coach to her players. She is a mother in some ways and a mentor.

She is the unquestioned leader of the team, but without being too controlling or rigid.

Bluder believes in her players on and off the court and she gives them the freedom and the confidence to excel and to express themselves.

The mark of a great player in addition to having flashy statistics is the ability to make your teammates and your team better.

The 6-foot-3 Gustafson checked all of the boxes to where the choice for national player of the year almost seemed like a no-brainer.

Nothing against Louisville’s Asia Durr or Oregon’s Sabrina Inonescu or any other elite player, but no women’s player filled all of the categories to the extent that Gustafson did.

She was efficient, durable and consistently dominate, and we’ll probably never see the likes of her again, at least at Iowa.

Gustafson also benefitted from a healthy environment in which to grow and prosper, and that’s a tribute to Bluder and to her assistant coaches.

I will admit to being somewhat biased when it comes to Bluder and her assistant coaches because they did something recently that touched my heart from a personal standpoint and showed why they are so successful.

My beloved dog LaKota was laid to rest in late February and I wrote a column expressing my sadness and posted it on the AllHawkeyes home page and on Twitter.

About a week later, I received a letter of sympathy that was signed by Bluder and by her three assistant coaches.

Needless to say, I was blown away by their kindness.

Here they were getting ready for postseason and they still took the time and the effort to send me a sympathy card for losing my dog.

That meant so much to me, and it said a lot about the culture within the Iowa women's basketball program. And the culture starts with Bluder.   

The only bad thing about this past season is that it had to end.

Iowa’s 85-53 loss to Baylor in the Elite Eight this past Monday was a sad ending to a journey filled with happiness and memories that will last forever.

Iowa fans owe a big thanks to Bluder and to Gustfason, and to everybody else associated with the team, for treating them to a storybook season.

And the Iowa players and coaches owe the fans a big thanks for their loyalty and support.

Iowa combined to draw over 22,000 for the first two NCAA Tournament games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and that is something that Bluder will now use to her advantage in recruiting.

This special season might be over, but its impact will be felt for quite some time.