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No. 1 Gonzaga 99, No. 3 Iowa 88: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Iowa spent two hours Saturday finding out how far the gap is between it and the top of the college basketball world.

The answer was: 11 points.

No. 1 Gonzaga took control midway through the first half at the Sanford Pentagon and held off a late flurry by the No. 3 Hawkeyes to win a marquee December hoops matchup 99-88.

Iowa center Luka Garza gave it everything he had to finish with 30 points, relishing his chance to tangle with perhaps the most talented team he'll face all season. Joe Wieskamp added 20 points. 

But the Bulldogs (4-0), coming off a two-week break due to COVID-19 issues, were a step ahead of the Hawkeyes (6-1) throughout the game. Gonzaga got 27 points from point guard Jalen Suggs and 13 from senior wing Corey Kispert, a preseason all-American like Garza. Kispert fouled out of the game.

Gonzaga outrebounded Iowa 49-37. The Bulldogs outran the Hawkeyes for 18 fast-break points. The questions about Iowa's ability to defend elite athletes remain, with 20 Big Ten Conference games ahead.

But it's only December, and this game was scheduled to provide both teams with a valuable opportunity to size up other top-level competition, as well as to treat college basketball fans to a nationally televised, entertaining game.

Iowa center Luka Garza got a lot of defensive attention Saturday from Gonzaga, as expected. The Hawkeye star still got his points, but Iowa's offense struggled to keep pace with the top-ranked Bulldogs.

Here's what we learned:

Joe Toussaint's speed is a need for Iowa

Iowa senior point guard Jordan Bohannon did not have a good game, missing all five of his 3-point attempts and committing four turnovers. In the second half, it was sophomore Joe Toussaint who came in to man that position and give the Hawkeyes an immediate lift. Toussaint is the quickest Iowa player, and that was vital in a game like this, with Gonzaga applying pressure and trying to get transition baskets. Toussaint kept driving it at the Bulldogs, getting layups or fouls. On one successful trip into the lane, someone on the Iowa bench told Toussaint: "Every time." He listened, and drove for another basket on the next trip. The Hawkeyes made a run with Toussaint on the floor, and he remained in the game for extended minutes for that reason.

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) shoot a 3-pointer during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 in SIoux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Josh Jurgens)

Jalen Suggs exposes Iowa's weakness

Gonzaga’s point guard should be a rookie in the NBA, not college. But that’s no excuse for the Hawkeyes’ failure to take away any aspect of his game in the first half. Suggs was disruptive on defense, with a pair of steals. He made 5 of 6 3-pointers, showing great range and a pro-ready swagger. In a sequence that typified how things went in the first half, Suggs drove into the lane, had the ball deflected away, but went to the floor under the basket to grab it and toss it to a teammate on the perimeter, setting up yet another Gonzaga 3-pointer. He was fast, flashy and too much for the Hawkeyes to handle.

Hawkeyes go cold, Gonzaga pounces

The teams were exchanging baskets through the first 10 minutes in a fun, fast-paced game. But then Iowa did what you cannot do against Gonzaga: Misfire repeatedly. While the Hawkeyes missed seven shots in a row, Gonzaga was happy to grab the rebounds and get into transition, where it was a mismatch. The Bulldogs extended a one-point lead to 12 in that stretch. Four different Hawkeyes missed shots that they normally would make. It was a painful lesson that a team that relies on offense needs to have an answer when the shots stop falling for a little while. Iowa did not Saturday. Gonzaga had 11 fast-break points in the first half, which is the same rate it had in its first three games.

The Hawkeyes open Big Ten Conference play at 8 p.m. Tuesday when they host Purdue.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.