Alexa Kastanek had 13 points in her own homecoming last week in a Big Ten-opening win at Nebraska.
On Monday night Kastanek helped Iowa spoil C. Vivian Stringer’s return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Kastanek had a game-high 20 points, including a 3-pointer that snapped a 61-all tie, as Iowa rallied for a 69-65 win over Rutgers (10-4, 1-1 Big Ten) in the first game for Stringer in Iowa City since 2005.
Iowa (12-2, 2-0) rallied from a four-point halftime deficit and took the lead for good on Kastanek’s fifth 3-pointer of the game with 5:09 left that helped the Hawkeyes run their home winning streak to 25 straight.
“My teammates got me open tonight, I can’t do any of it by myself,” Kastanek said. “Ally (Disterhoft) drives into the lane and draws three or four people and kicks it out to me and I’m lucky enough to be able to knock down an open shot.”
The shooting of Kastanek, and a 15-2 edge for Iowa at the free-throw line, helped Iowa snap a five-game Rutgers winning streak and made an already difficult return trip to Iowa City even tougher for Stringer, who won 269 games while leading the Hawkeyes from 1983-1995.
“The moment that I heard that we were going to join the Big Ten I knew that we were going to be coming back here and I don’t look forward to it because no matter what I love the Hawkeyes, I just do,” Stringer said. “I love the fans and this arena and everything else.”
Disterhoft added 15 points and Whitney Jennings and Chase Coley each had 10 for Iowa, which started 2-0 in Big Ten play for the second consecutive season.
The Hawkeyes will seek their first 3-0 start in conference play since the 1997-98 season on Thursday at Michigan (8-5, 0-2)
“We are very happy, 2-0 in the conference, it can’t get any better than that,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We know going to Michigan that we had a lot of people that played a lot of minutes tonight so we are going to have to be very careful in our two days of prep.
Iowa led by as many as seven in the first half, but Rutgers closed the half on a 13-2 run to take a 37-33 halftime lead.
The Hawkeyes trailed 45-40 midway through the third quarter but rattled off a 14-2 run that featured five made Iowa free throws and was capped by a 3-pointer by Jennings that gave Iowa a 54-47 lead.
“We really came together in the locker room and we said we know what they are going to be doing, we’ve been working on it, just look for the shots that we’ve been looking for in practice,” Kastanek said. “I think that’s really what got us this win tonight.”
Rutgers took its final lead of the game at 61-60 on a putback by Kahleah Copper with 6:57 left.
Kastanek tied the game with a free throw with 5:54 left and on the ensuing Iowa possession nailed a 3-pointer from the wing off an assist from Disterhoft that gave Iowa a lead it never relinquished.
The junior finished 5-of-10 from 3-point range as Iowa shot 55 percent from the floor against a Rutgers squad that entered the game holding opponents to 34 percent shooting on the season.
“She is very confident shooting the ball,” Bluder said of Kastanek said. “She kind of has that role that Melissa Dixon had for us last year in stepping up and shooting 3s and she has done a great job for us.”
The 69 points for Iowa were the most allowed by Rutgers since St. John's had 69 in the Scarlet Knights’ third game of the season back on Nov. 19.
Rutgers entered the game allowing a Big Ten-low 52.3 points per game.
“I think we have really just come out with a lot of energy,” Disterhoft said. “We heard a lot of talk about how tough our schedule has been opening up and it has been tough but I think we made a few statements coming out and getting these two really quality wins.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.