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College women's basketball: Gustafson, Lindstrom are Wisconsin's northern stars

Megan Gustafson remembers hanging out with her friend, Janice Anderson, on the Anderson family farm outside of Port Wing when they were in elementary school.

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Iowa Hawkeyes forward Megan Gustafson (10) goes up for a shot against Minnesota during the recent Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Brian Ray / hawkeyesports.com
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Megan Gustafson remembers hanging out with her friend, Janice Anderson, on the Anderson family farm outside of Port Wing when they were in elementary school.

Just a short walk away, was the barn with the basketball hoop where Janice and her older sister, Jolene, honed their skills. Jolene was busy starring in college basketball at Wisconsin and then playing professionally in the WNBA or overseas, so she was rarely home, but she didn't need to be. Her influence was great.

"Jolene is a great role model, to see someone from such a small town be able to do great things," Gustafson said.

Little did anyone know at the time that Gustafson was her heir apparent.

Gustafson, a 6-foot-3 junior forward who was named the Big Ten women's basketball player of the year by the media, will lead sixth-seeded Iowa (24-7) into its NCAA Division I tournament first-round game against 11th-seeded Creighton (18-12) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles.

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Jessica Lindstrom drives to the basket during a Wisconsin-Green Bay game earlier this season. (Green Bay Athletic Department)

Meanwhile, up the West Coast, another Northwestern Wisconsin product, Jessica Lindstrom of Superior, will lead seventh-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (29-3) against 10th-seeded Minnesota (23-8) at 4 p.m. Friday in Eugene, Ore. Both games are on ESPN2.

Lindstrom, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, leads the Phoenix with 15.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

"I can't believe this is my last year," she said. "You couldn't ask for a better final season than to go out with the NCAA tournament. I'm so fortunate, especially to do it all four years. I don't think many people can say that."

Port Wing prodigy

To think that one small Wisconsin town like Port Wing, population 164, could produce two players worthy of a WNBA tryout isn't just uncanny, it's unheard of. But that could happen at the rate Gustafson is going.

"I'm excited to represent our small town," Gustafson said. "It's not everyday that you hear these kind of stories."

Gustafson leads the country in scoring at 25.6 points per game and is fifth in rebounding at 12.7 per game. She's the only player averaging 24 or more points and 12 or more rebounds, and she also leads the country in field-goal percentage at 66.8 percent. She's put up 27 double-doubles in 31 games while earning a record nine Big Ten player of the week awards. If that's not enough, she broke a Big Ten tournament and Iowa single-game scoring record with 48 points in a 90-89 loss to Minnesota on March 2.

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Gustafson was on a mission.

"I felt a little extra motivation because the day before I got into foul trouble," she said.

Did she know she had scored that many points?

"I never really really how many points or rebounds until after the game," she said.

Gustafson comes from athletic roots, with her mother, Eva, having played basketball and volleyball at St. Scholastica, and her father, Clendon, having played basketball at Wisconsin-Superior. Her older sister, Emily, played at Upper Iowa before concussions ended her career.

Megan Gustafson graduated in 2015 in a class of 11 at South Shore High School in Port Wing. She started for the boys basketball team in eighth grade because there weren't enough girls. She reached 6-3 as a sophomore and finished her career with a state-record 3,229 points to go with 1,724 rebounds and 628 blocks, including a single-game state-record 64 points as a senior.

Still, Gustafson said she arrived on campus in Iowa City looking to prove her numbers weren't just the product of weak small-school competition.
"I would definitely say I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," she said. "I'd hear every once in a while people who thought I wouldn't be able to make it at the college level just because of where I come from, being from such a small school."

Steady improvement

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Look at the career numbers for Gustafson and Lindstrom, and they've shown steady improvement.

"That doesn't just come," Lindstrom said. "The summers are long. Five days a week we're waking up at 6:30 a.m."

While Gustafson is left-handed, it's hard to tell with her moves around the basket, and that's the best compliment you can give to someone who has worked really hard to be ambidextrous. That makes her that much tougher to stop.

"That's awesome to hear, just because the work I've put in is starting to pay off," Gustafson said. "My freshman year, and part of my sophomore year, it was pretty easy to tell that I was left-hand dominant, so I really spent some time on it. If I was working on hook shots, I'd double it with my right hand. My right hand has been very reliable this year, and I'm really happy about that."

While Gustafson and Lindstrom are both listed as forwards, they're different types of players.

Gustafson is more the traditional post, attempting only one 3-pointer in her career, while Lindstrom has that inside-outside game that helps stretch defenses, shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc for her career while making a career-high 63 3-pointers this season.

Lindstrom, who was a center in high school on a powerhouse Superior team that also featured future UWS star Hailey Kontny, gradually worked her way to the perimeter, to the point where this season the Phoenix listed her as a guard-forward.

"I'll take it," Lindstrom said, laughing. "That's one of the things that stuck with me from my visit to Green Bay. The coach said we adapt to you. I didn't have to completely change my game."

Lindstrom was rather quiet and reserved in high school but is chatty and outgoing now. She's come out of her shell in four seasons with the Phoenix, but in a phone interview with the News Tribune last week, there was only one problem: she could barely talk.

Green Bay had just won the Horizon League tournament championship for the fourth straight year, guaranteeing another berth in the Big Dance.

"I'm sorry, my voice is hoarse from a lot of yelling," Lindstrom said. "We were just so happy."

Lindstrom, a three-time News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year, said she had no regrets with her decision to play college basketball for the Phoenix, saying she found the right place. She said Green Bay wasn't too close, or too far, but just right. Her parents attended at least 20 of her games this season. The education major with a 3.9 grade-point average will graduate in May and could see being a teacher and coach like her father.

While her career isn't over just yet, Lindstrom feels she and Gustafson helped put Northwestern Wisconsin on the basketball map.

"We're normally way beyond the recruiting scope," Lindstrom said. "When my college coaches say they're heading north, I'll always ask, 'Where to?' And it will be somewhere like Eau Claire. That isn't exactly my neck of the woods, but that's about as far as they go, so you know if they make the trip all the way up north, you're a special player, that's for sure."

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnew.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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