By Steve Batterson
Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa
IOWA CITY - There is a bigger deal than the 6-foot-9 recruit the Iowa women's basketball program hosted on Thursday.
Holding serve at home is every bit as important to the Hawkeyes as they work deeper into an already complicated Big Ten race.
Only two teams - Indiana and Rutgers - remain unbeaten in conference play through the first three dates of Big Ten competition.
Both are 2-0 are sit one-half game in front of a logjam of four teams that are off to 2-1 starts in a league which has nine teams currently with 10 or more wins on their records.
Iowa is among those teams, carrying a 10-3 overall record and 1-1 Big Ten start into a 7 p.m. game today (Monday, Jan. 7) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Wisconsin, which sits at 10-5 and is 1-2 in the conference.
"Home games are so critical," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "The Big Ten has been so crazy. It's early and there have been a lot of upsets already. You have to fight for every win you can get at home and then hope to find a way to pick off a few on the road, but it starts with protecting the home court."
Averaging 83.1 points per game, the Hawkeyes face a contrast in styles against the Badgers, who are holding opponents to 56 points per game and have a 76-69 win over a solid Purdue team on their record.
The contrast extends to interior play, where Iowa all-American Megan Gustafson has averaged 22.7 points and 14 rebounds against her home state school.
The senior from Port Wing, Wis., will join the Hawkeyes in facing a Wisconsin team which leads the nation with 703 rebounds through 15 games, an average of 46.9 per game, and ranks seventh with 85 blocked shots.
Michigan State and Nebraska have challenged Gustafson with a more physical approach defensively, attempting to wear her down physically.
"I know that I have a target on my back," Gustafson said.
She's dealing with that as the Hawkeyes deal with continue to search for future talent.
That included welcoming Jelena Mitrovic, a 6-9 native of Serbia to campus for Thursday's win over Nebraska.
Mitrovic averaged 11.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in seven game for Serbia at the 2018 FIBA U18 Women's European Championship.
A 2019 recruit, Mitrovic has trimmed her list of potential college programs to Arizona State, Iowa, Oregon State and Rutgers.
Gustafson picks up two more honors
For the seventh time this season, Gustafson has been named the Big Ten Player of the Week.
Gustafson has 17 career player of the week awards -- tied for the second-most in the history of the Big Ten Conference (Kelly Mazzante, Penn State). Jantel Lavender (Ohio State) holds the Big Ten record with 19.
Gustafson was also named December’s Iowa Female Student-Athlete of the Month. The honor, voted by their peers, recognizes student-athletes who have excelled not only in their sports, but in the classroom as well.
Gustafson led all scorers with 28 points and 17 rebounds in Iowa's win over Nebraska on Jan. 3, registering her NCAA-leading 12th double-double of the season. She also chipped in five blocks, two assists, and a steal.
She has been honored by the conference every week this season, including seven Player of the Week awards and two Honor Roll mentions. She broke a Big Ten single-season record last season with nine Player of the Week honors. She was also named to the conference's weekly honor roll six times.
Gustafson averaged 29.8 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Hawkeyes to a 5-1 record in the month of December. She shot 71 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line over the six contests.
Gustafson became Iowa's all-time leading scorer on Dec. 30, besting both the male (2,116 points) and female (2,102 points) records. Gustafson has 2,124 career points. Gustafson currently leads the NCAA in double-doubles (11), points per game (26.8), total points (321), and field goals made (132).