CEDAR FALLS -- Northern Iowa's women's basketball offense appears to be in good hands once again.
Karli Rucker stepped in as the Panthers' starting point guard and ignited a productive offense with 25 points and six assists Friday night as UNI defeated Delaware 79-67 at the McLeod Center.
It was an opening-round game in the Preseason WNIT, and it earned the Panthers a trip to Milwaukee Sunday for a 1 p.m. matchup against Marquette.
"This is the start to our season and we want to win," said UNI head coach Tanya Warren. "It is an honor to be in this tournament and we wanted to play our best at home."
The Panthers weren't at their best on the defensive end early.
Delaware began the game with a 6-0 run and had things in control until UNI's Abby Gerrits picked off a pass that turned into a pair of Rucker free throws. That ignited a 12-0 run as the Panthers settled in.
"I was not really happy with the way our defense started the game," Warren said. "I don't know if we were that nervous to start, but we settled down and from that point our defense did a tremendous job on their point guard."
UNI held the Blue Hens to nine points in the second quarter and enjoyed a 33-22 advantage after the first 20 minutes.
Delaware chipped away early in the second half, trimming a 14-point deficit to six when Warren called a timeout.
"We saw on film that they would probably come out in the second half and press us," said Warren. "We seemed a little unorganized on how to handle it and we had trouble getting the ball in. We need to be able to recognize that and react. We just acted."
The Panthers then built their lead back to double digits and protected that advantage down the stretch.
In addition to Rucker's 25 points, which included 8-for-8 free-throw shooting, Megan Maahs dropped in 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Ellie Howell and Abby Gerrits had 15 points each.
"We go out and try to be aggressive in every game," Rucker said. "You have to be smart and think in the game and step up to do your job. Each game there will be someone different that steps up and tonight I was just able to get in the lane and score."
Rucker knocked down some key free throws down the stretch and nailed a big bucket as the shot clock went off to give her team a 71-63 lead.
"I have been given that role as of now and I will embrace it," Rucker said. "It means a lot and I want to help my team win in any way."