Luka Garza leads Iowa Hawkeyes to home romp past jet-lagged Southern Jaguars

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza may have lost his starting role on the Iowa men's basketball team. But the freshman center never lost his confidence. Nor did he lose the trust of coach Fran McCaffery.

McCaffery turned to Garza with 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first half Sunday, with his team locked in a tie game with a jet-lagged Southern squad at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Garza had picked up two fouls and was prepared to sit the final 10 minutes of the half, per McCaffery's usual philosophy.

Instead, Garza sprinted back onto the court and ignited an Iowa rally, having the best game of his young career while the Hawkeyes romped to a 91-60 victory to snap a four-game losing streak.

Garza finished with a career-high 23 points to go with 13 rebounds in only 19 minutes of play.

"A lot of guys, you take them out of the starting lineup and they don't react the way he's reacted," McCaffery said of Garza. "He went to work and essentially dominated the game. ... Ran the floor, on the glass, very few mistakes, if any, that I can remember. He was in the right place and settled everybody down."

Garza had 10 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half to help the Hawkeyes take a 41-31 lead against the Jaguars (2-8). Southern didn't arrive in Iowa City until midnight Saturday after losing at Central Florida earlier that afternoon.

The Jaguars clearly didn't have their shooting legs, making  just 3 of 21 from 3-point range. They were the perfect antidote for what had been ailing Iowa during a stretch when it lost six of seven games.

Garza made sure of it. The 6-foot-11 rookie, who hadn't started the past two games and played a season-low seven minutes in Thursday's loss at Iowa State, put his imprint all over Sunday's win.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Luka Garza (55) shoots the ball as Southern University Jaguars guard Richard Lee (0) and forward Jared Sam (left) defend during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

He made 8 of 10 free throws after entering play a mere 41 percent shooter from the stripe. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end; no other Hawkeye had more than four rebounds total.

Garza was feeling so chipper that he even stepped out to the wing and nailed a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in the first half. That shot gave Iowa (5-6, 0-2 Big Ten Conference) a 38-31 lead and left Garza shouting and pointing at a gleeful Iowa bench.

"I knew that one was going to go in before I shot it. Once you play with that kind of energy, the ball seems drawn to you and good things happen," Garza said.

"I trust my shot. I've just got to play with more confidence, not be so stressed out."

McCaffery said he reinserted Garza in the first half in part out of necessity. Forward Tyler Cook also was sitting with two fouls. Backup Ryan Kriener had exited after getting poked in the eye. Sophomore Cordell Pemsl was unavailable after suffering a deep cut to his right shin in Thursday's game.

"It was a pleasant surprise," Garza said of the moment McCaffery summoned him. "I knew I wasn't going to foul again. In high school, I dealt with that a lot. It was great that he showed that trust in me. It was comforting for me."

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Brady Ellingson (24) and teammates react at the end of the first half against the Southern University Jaguars at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Garza, a native of Washington, D.C., started Iowa's first nine games, averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. But his minutes were being reduced as he struggled to keep up with smaller, faster opposing lineups. He said he understood when McCaffery took him out of the starting lineup the past two games.

"I knew coach had to switch some things up. We went through a tough losing streak," Garza said. "I knew I was still going to get in the game and I was just going to try to play with more energy. He trusts my game; he recruited me; he knows what's best for me."

Isaiah Moss made four 3-pointers and added 12 points for Iowa. Jack Nunge scored 11. 

Iowa, which had been beset by turnover problems, committed only seven and just one in the second half.

Iowa forward Luka Garza (left) drives to the basket past Southern University guard Richard Lee during the first half of Sunday's game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Garza said the losing had been wearing on the Hawkeyes.

"The trips home have been terrible. Everyone's been upset and not talking. We hate that," he said. "We just kept coming in to practice. Just keep showing up, keep showing up. We knew it was going to come."

Iowa next faces Drake at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.