By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Welcome back, McKenna.
The difficult thing to do after McKenna Warnock’s return to the University of Iowa women’s basketball starting lineup is picking a favorite play Thursday against Rutgers.
The Hawkeyes (6-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) extended their home winning streak to 41 with a 90-84 victory over Rutgers (5-2, 1-2) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Warnock, who rested an injured ankle during a 27-point Iowa win against Western Illinois on Dec. 22, made a dazzling return.
What was your favorite McKenna moment?
Was it five straight 3-point field goals in the first half? A cross court assist to Gabbie Marshall that put the Hawkeyes ahead by five points in the third quarter? A conventional three-point play with eight minutes left that put Iowa on top, 66-62?
“McKenna is a warrior. I’m happy she is back because as you can see, she is a big factor for us.”Lisa Bluder, Iowa head coach
“McKenna is a warrior,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I’m happy she is back because as you can see, she is a big factor for us.”
Warnock scored 12 of her 18 points in the first quarter when she made 4 of 5 3-point field goals and pulled down three rebounds. She misfired on her first attempt from distance, then hit one with 8:21 left in the first quarter, 6:47 left, 4:00 left and 0:02 left. Her fourth 3-pointer put the Hawkeyes ahead 28-12.
“McKenna got us going with those four 3s,” Bluder said. “We don’t see much zone, so we worked on it a lot the last couple days and it was kind of fun for us to see a zone. Our players light up.”
The sophomore from Marshall, Wisconsin, entered the game averaging 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. In her first five games, she made eight 3-point field goals. She had half that total after the first 10 minutes Thursday; her career-high fifth of the game came with a minute left before halftime.
“My teammates found me with good passes and some of them were difficult passes,” Warnock said. “They had open eyes on the floor and found me in open areas. Once I made it, they were there for me, cheering for me, and that helps with confidence.”
Warnock also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, an area of focus for her when others on the team are scoring points. Five Hawkeyes scored in double figures, led by freshman Caitlin Clark with 28.
“McKenna is a big piece for us, especially starting the game,” Clark said. “If it wasn’t for her, I’m not sure we would have had that big lead. It was great to have her back.”
Iowa’s largest lead was 32-12 early in the second quarter. Rutgers rallied to go ahead 54-53, but the Hawkeyes surged to a seven-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter and held on. Part of the reason was the return of Warnock, who finished 6 of 9 from the field.
“She can stretch the floor and she is a great passer,” said center Monika Czinano, who scored 17 points. “It opens everything up for us. We become a better attacking team. This is great for her confidence and the confidence of the team.”
The Hawkeyes open the new year Sunday at Illinois (2-3, 0-2). Tipoff is 1 p.m. (CT).