IOWA CITY — Megan Gustafson fought off a couple of tears as she watched a banner with her jersey number, 10, being hoisted to the rafters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.
"That's when it hit me. The whole day was busy, but to see that banner unravel and my number go up there, it hit me that this was real," Gustafson said shortly after becoming the second Iowa women's basketball player ever to have her number retired.
The former South Shore Cardinal and first consensus national player of the year in Big Ten history was surrounded by family members and former teammates who paid tribute to her record-setting career during a 30-minute ceremony which followed the Hawkeyes' come-from-behind 74-57 victory over Michigan State.
A crowd of 13,420 — the fourth-largest for a Hawkeye women's home game — joined Gustafson in watching 19th-ranked Iowa overcome an injury to Gustafson's lineup replacement, Monika Czinano, and outscore the Spartans 28-9 in the fourth quarter to earn the Hawkeyes' 32nd consecutive home victory.
The win was Iowa's eighth straight, and it moved the Hawkeyes into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten at the midpoint of this year's conference race.
"It was fun to watch, great seats, but I wanted to suit up and get out there," Gustafson said. "... It was great to see the fight this team showed."
The fight that Gustafson showed throughout a career that left her as Iowa's all-time scoring and rebounding leader was recognized after the Hawkeyes celebrated their win.
Gustafson entered the court through a tunnel of current Iowa players and coaches. In addition to videos featuring highlights from her career, as well as comments from her teammates and coaches, director of athletics Gary Barta and coach Lisa Bluder spoke.
Barta told Gustafson that calling her the greatest Iowa women's basketball player of all time wasn't enough.
"She is one of the most decorated student-athletes in any sport at the University of Iowa in its history," Barta said. "Megan, thank you for being an inspiration, thank you for all you accomplished in your career and thank you for being a Hawkeye."
Bluder praised Gustafson's work ethic on the court, in the classroom and called her "one of the kindest" people she has ever met.
"I'm so proud that number '10' is going to be hanging from the rafters forever," Bluder said.
Gustafson joins Michelle Edwards as the only Iowa women's basketball players to have their jersey numbers retired. Edwards, now working as an assistant at Rutgers, offered video congratulations.
"What an accomplishment," Edwards said. "My hat is tipped to you."
Gustafson, who spent time with the team prior to the game and received congratulations from fans throughout the game, said the experience was all a little overwhelming for a player who arrived at Iowa from tiny Port Wing, Wisconsin, part of a high school senior class of 12.
"When you're a younger player, all you want to do is play, you don't think about this actually happening. It's a dream, and I'm so blessed to be able to live it," said Gustafson, now playing professionally in Hungary.
She wants her journey to be an inspiration to others.
"You can do it, and my experience at the University of Iowa has given me a platform to help others understand that they can accomplish big things with hard work," Gustafson said.
She didn't have to look any further than the court she played on a year ago to find an example.
Gustafson said she saw the same chemistry at work Sunday as Iowa came from behind to win for a fourth consecutive time.
The Hawkeyes (17-3, 8-1 Big Ten) needed that after Czinano sprained her right ankle on a drive to the basket in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
Bluder said X-rays showed no broken bones, but the severity of the sprain has not yet been determined.
Michigan State (11-9, 4-5) had used its defensive strength to open a 39-37 lead when Czinano exited after scoring with 6 minutes, 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Spartans carried a 48-46 lead into the fourth quarter before a pair of free throws by Makenzie Meyer tied the game at 50-50 and fueled a 26-7 Iowa run over the final 6:07 that included 15 of McKenna Warnock's game-high 22 points.
Warnock broke a 53-53 tie by hitting two free throws with 4:57 left, then hit a basket and followed a three-point play by Amanda Ollinger with a 3-point basket of her own as the Hawkeyes set a celebratory tone for the ceremony that followed the game.
"We had to win it for Megan, right?" Bluder said. "... We played a great fourth quarter and we needed that. Michigan State took us out of our game early with how physical they played, but I felt like we wore them down. With Monika out, McKenna really stepped up."
Not unlike the player that was honored following the game, Warnock credited her teammates for allowing that to happen with an effort Kathleen Doyle complemented with a 20-point effort.
"They gave me the confidence. I knew I had their support," said Warnock, who recorded her second career double-double with 10 rebounds to go with her career-high point total. "They ran a couple of plays for me. Kathleen told me they couldn't guard me, just go past them. It worked out."