Iowa takeaways: Garza hampers Happ, Pemsl picks up Cook, team gets shot of confidence
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza spent some time this week studying Wisconsin star Ethan Happ.
Not to imitate him, but to irritate him.
Iowa’s freshman center was up to the task and that, as much as anything, sent the Hawkeyes on the way to a much-needed 85-67 victory Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I just needed to match his intensity,” Garza said afterward.
“I think I was beating him to some spots. He tried to fake a couple of handoffs and I’d seen that on film; he loves to do that. I was right there on that. I feel like I did a really good job knowing where he was going to be, working early so he couldn’t get a postup. Because once he catches the ball, he’s hard to stop. You’ve got to send doubles. And my teammates did a great job coming with the double-team and then rotating off of that.”
Happ missed his first four shots and committed a turnover before finally scoring 13 minutes into the game. But Iowa already led by 10 points then. Happ scored only four first-half points and was even sent to the bench early in the second half after committing two turnovers 30 seconds apart.
Although Happ got going late in the contest to end up with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, he was never able to help Wisconsin mount a charge.
“He had his hands up and took advantage of his length and physicality. He’s a hard guy to score over,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the 6-foot-11 Garza. “Happ’s as good as it gets at creating his own angle. Everybody tries to wall him off, but he still somehow creates an angle to score because he’s gifted with his right and left hand. I thought Luka slid his feet pretty well and made it tough for him.”
Just as important for Iowa in its best defensive showing of the Big Ten Conference season was not allowing Happ to find open 3-point shooters either. The Badgers connected on just 4-of-18 from the arc, one game after the Hawkeyes allowed Purdue to sink 20 3-pointers.
Garza, who finished with 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, went toe-to-toe with Happ inside. The Hawkeyes rotated aggressively to contest shots on the perimeter.
That was a winning formula, and a chance for the Hawkeyes to talk about their defense for a change.
No time to be tired
Garza got a chuckle out of one question after the game. Does he feel any fatigue 22 games into his first college season?
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t want the season to end,” an amused Garza replied. “I’m just going to keep working hard. I don’t feel any fatigue. I love this game. I play 365 days a year.”
Garza had his fourth double-double of the season and continued a five-week stretch of play in which he’s emerged as the Hawkeyes’ emotional leader. Sophomore forward Tyler Cook said the team loves the vocal energy Garza brings and doesn’t want him to curtail it.
In the first half Tuesday, Garza turned and yelled toward the Wisconsin bench after one strong offensive sequence.
If anything, Garza seems to be gaining steam as the season progresses.
“He has an expectation for himself that he’s going to play like this regardless of who lines up in front of him,” McCaffery said of Garza hanging tough against an all-Big Ten performer like Happ. “Quite honestly, that’s the attitude you have to have.”
Pemsl keeps order
Cook twisted his ankle midway through the second half after a brilliant performance that saw him score 17 points and repeatedly punish Wisconsin with drives to the rim.
“Just a common ankle sprain,” Cook said afterward. “I won’t miss any time.”
McCaffery said Cook could have returned to the court against the Badgers. But there was no need. Cordell Pemsl made sure of that.
Pemsl played 17 second-half minutes, scoring nine of his 11 points and collecting five of his seven rebounds after intermission. He made a career-high seven free throws — missing just once — all in the second half.
That’s what allowed Cook to watch from the bench as his teammates finished off Wisconsin and earned their first conference home victory of the season.
“That’s the beauty of not only having a bunch of big guys but a bunch of good big guys,” Cook said of his friend Pemsl. “We’re deep at the 4-5 positions, so we can take any guy in there and get the job done. I’m really proud of him and Luka.”
While Cook figures to be fine for Saturday’s game at Nebraska, the future is murkier for a pair of Hawkeyes who have suffered concussions.
Sophomore center Ryan Kriener missed a second consecutive game Tuesday with his second concussion of the season.
Joining him was junior guard Brady Ellingson, who suffered his concussion near the end of Monday’s practice. He is in the concussion protocol, McCaffery confirmed, and his recovery time is unknown.
That left Iowa with 10 available scholarship players, and McCaffery used only nine of those. Senior Dom Uhl did not play. Freshman Jack Nunge saw only 2 minutes of action.
An eight-man rotation is unusual for the Hawkeyes this year. But it worked well against Wisconsin. Five of the core eight scored at least 11 points.
What does win mean?
Iowa followed its previous Big Ten win — Jan. 11 at Illinois — with two of its worst performances in losses at Rutgers and at home vs. Purdue.
So fans should view with caution Tuesday’s win, as impressive as it was, until more strong performances follow.
But McCaffery and his players did indicate that leading a conference game wire to wire provided some confidence.
“I look at it more like this: If you want to win in this league, this is how you have to play,” McCaffery said.
That means starting fast, something Iowa did with a game-opening 9-0 burst Tuesday.
“We needed to punch them in the mouth first, get on our run,” Garza said. “We’d been going into halftime always down and trying to work ourselves back into the game. And so a big key for us (Tuesday) was to start early.”