Megan Gustafson describes the emotions in seeing her jersey retired. Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Consider Iowa fortunate it took this long before any legitimate injury adversity arose. Almost three months without a serious health concern is rare in today’s grueling basketball world.
Everyone, though, gets bitten eventually.
The No. 19 Hawkeyes (17-3, 8-1 Big Ten Conference) could be without Monika Czinano for Thursday’s game at Penn State, after the sophomore center twisted her right ankle badly in Sunday's 74-57 win over Michigan State.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday that Czinano remains day-to-day and will be reevaluated after the shootaround at Bryce Jordan Center.
All things considered, that’s decent news considering how painful Czinano’s injury looked. She writhed in pain after tumbling to the floor underneath the basket, leading to a hushed crowd and an ominous hobble to the bench. If all that equates to just a brief absence, Iowa should be able to live with the circumstances.
“It’s not quite as bad as we thought it was originally,” Bluder said, “so that’s a good sign.”
If Czinano can’t go Thursday and beyond, look for McKenna Warnock’s role to expand even further. The former top-100 prospect has already carved out a nice reserve role as a freshman, but the closing stretch of Sunday’s win emphasized how potent Warnock can be.
She nearly doubled-up the Spartans in the fourth quarter, outscoring Michigan State, 15-9, with eight points in the final three minutes. The performance earned her Big Ten freshman of the week honors and should have her ready to enter the starting lineup if needed.
“She’s just fearless,” Bluder said. “She was a great offensive player in high school and she’s having opportunities now and is taking advantage of them. ... She doesn’t care who she’s going against or what the name is on the front of the jersey. McKenna’s willing to be an offensive threat from a number of different places on the floor.”
Surviving health issues can be as much about when injuries happen as to whom — and Iowa feels fortunate in that regard. As improved as Czinano has been, she’s battled foul trouble from time to time when banging down low. Seven times Czinano has played fewer than 25 minutes; Warnock has averaged 18 minutes and eight points in those contests.
“We’ve been in that situation before. Monika’s been in foul trouble. It was obviously different (because it was an injury instead of foul trouble), but we have so much confidence in McKenna that she can come in and step up,” senior Kathleen Doyle said after Sunday’s win. "That’s kind of what we do. It’s next man up.
“We obviously want Monika to be good, but if we don’t have her, we have confidence in the next player.”
Penn State (7-13, 1-8) could be the perfect confidence booster. The Nittany Lions are slogging through a horrific start in Big Ten play, having dropped five straight and 11 of 15 overall. They’re under .500 at home and don’t have the horses to stay with Iowa if the Hawkeyes continue their solid play.
A cruise-control win would be the perfect catalyst into Sunday’s game at Michigan (13-6, 4-4). After solely taking over first place last weekend, Iowa can find some breathing room with more solid play.
The Hawkeyes know they’re a target now. Following another jump in both polls, Iowa is the second-highest ranked Big Ten team — one spot behind Maryland in the AP top 25 and three behind the Terrapins in the Coaches Poll. The Hawkeyes sit fifth in the RPI with four title contenders up ahead. Postseason hosting possibilities grow with each updated ESPN bracketology.
Iowa’s veterans experienced this same scenario just last year. Shifting back into that mode shouldn’t feel foreign.
“Everyone wants to pick off the top-rated team at that time,” Bluder said. “Also when you have the top-25 ranking as well, everybody wants to have that (win). … We definitely are going to get everyone’s best shot.”
Countering such may or may not include Czinano for the time being. That’s just part of the drill inside the rugged Big Ten.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.