Leistikow: Beating Iowa State is realistic if Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp play like this

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Considering Iowa hasn’t won a men’s basketball game in Hilton Coliseum since the 2003 NIT, the historical evidence to suggest the Hawkeyes are going to steal one at Iowa State this Thursday night is limited.

But Iowa certainly has positioned itself to break an eight-game losing streak in Ames, considering its well-rounded performance Monday.

Led by sterling nights from Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, the Hawkeyes’ version of hate week got off to a terrific start with a 72-52 win against Minnesota.

Luke Garza has scored 88 points in Iowa's last three games, including a 21-point, 10-rebound performance Monday against Minnesota. But he has six career points in two games against Iowa State, something he'd like to change.

It’s the first time Iowa has played these two bitter rivals in in the same week in 36 seasons. The last time — George Raveling’s first season at Iowa — Iowa lost to both Iowa State (in Hilton) and Minnesota (in Carver), five days apart, in January 1984.

Maybe history is overdue to flip.

If Garza and Wieskamp keep playing like this together, the Hawkeyes’ ceiling sure gets a lot higher.

Garza had 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Gophers, almost a ho-hum double-double after his 44-point eruption three nights earlier at Michigan.

► Iowa takeaways:Bohannon dishes, Wieskamp finishes and Hawkeyes romp past Minnesota

But Monday's big story was Wieskamp, who had his best game of the season — scoring 23 points, one shy of his career high, with six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and no turnovers. This was the elite all-around performance the Hawkeyes have been waiting for, although Fran McCaffery pointed out Wieskamp's rebounding and defense have been solid all season.

“It’s only the beginning for him,” Garza raved. “He’s starting to break out.”

Wieskamp returned the praise for the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer.

“(Garza) is a guy that leaves it all out on the floor,” Wieskamp said, smiling. “He’s going to be bleeding and sore the next day, but he’s going to give it everything he has.”

They're feeding off each other now. They're playing well. 

Now, Iowa is 7-3. A pretty solid record considering the schedule to date. It’s gone 3-2 with two games left — the Cyclones and Cincinnati — in a daunting seven-opponent stretch that’s included games against the last two NCAA Tournament runners-up (Texas Tech and Michigan).

So ... about 6-3 Iowa State.

Garza and Wieskamp don't need reminders that they haven't done much of anything, individually, against the Cyclones in their careers.

Let’s start with Wieskamp, who badly sprained his ankle against Michigan State three days before last year’s game against the Cyclones. He played through the pain — saying nothing was going to keep him from playing — but was ineffective. He scored seven points with one rebound in 22 minutes of a 98-84 Iowa win.

“That’s probably the one game on the schedule that stands out to me, being an in-state kid,” the sophomore from Muscatine said. “I know the environment’s really hostile.

“I’m excited to play healthy this time.”

The case of Garza is more perplexing. He has six career points in two games against Iowa State.

In 2017 at Hilton, Garza played seven minutes (which remains a career low) and scored two points in an 84-78 loss.

In 2018 in Iowa City, Garza had one of those games in which he started poorly — and couldn’t climb out of the rut. Just four points in 15 minutes.

But that's the old Garza. On Monday, he demonstrated why he taken such a big sophomore-to-junior leap.

Going against challenging Minnesota center Daniel Oturu (22 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks), Garza struggled early. He was just 2-for-8 from the floor with four points until the late moments of the first half. But he kept at it.

In the final 21 minutes, 38 seconds, he was 6-for-9 with 17 points.

Quite the reversal.

“In the past, sometimes when I start off like that, that kind of decides my game and I play worse and worse,” Garza said. “I made an adjustment and (decided) to be better.”

He continued.

“This year I put a huge emphasis on, no matter what, I’m going to talk on defense, I’m going to play hard, I’m going to rebound,” he said. “When my opportunities come, I’m going to score.”

Indeed he is.

Freshman guard C.J. Fredrick, one of the best pure shooters on the team, noticed how Minnesota was hedging toward Garza. Opponents can't afford to defend a 6-foot-11 center who's averaging 22.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a game with just one man.

“When he got the ball down low, a lot of their guards were staring at the ball,” said Fredrick, who finished with 10 points. “And … they were kind of sleeping on our back cuts.”

The Hawkeyes carry confidence into Ames, knowing they'll be putting their best feet forward.

Thursday could mark senior guard Jordan Bohannon’s last game of the season, as he considers whether to shut it down and apply for a medical-hardship waiver as he deals with significant hip pain.

But he’s definitely playing Thursday, noting that this is “a game we circled since we lost there two years ago.”

More good news for Iowa: Fredrick reported his lingering quad injury feels better than it has for a while.  

And with Garza and Wieskamp humming, there’s a growing sense that maybe these two can carry the team, even if they’re without Bohannon after Thursday.

“(We’re) one of the best duos in the country in my opinion, because of how good (Wieskamp) is,” Garza said. “I think we can keep that going and keep the momentum going. When we’re both clicking, that’s when our team is at our best.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.