Leistikow: Luka Garza vows that Hawkeyes won't play like that again

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza leads the Iowa basketball team in a lot of categories. Thursday night, the all-American center led the Hawkeyes in shouldering the blame for a staggering 81-69 loss to Indiana.

Here is a sampling of Garza’s comments following fourth-ranked Iowa’s series of unfortunate events at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I didn’t do a good enough job dealing with the double teams in the second half.”

“I can’t turn it over that many times. I’m better than that.”

“We’ve got to be able to get (Joe Wieskamp) more shots. … That’s on my shoulders.”

And later, this.

“We’re going to be better. I’m going to make sure we’re better. I’m going to make sure we don’t take anything for granted.”

Garza was being too hard on himself, of course, considering he registered game highs of 28 points and 12 rebounds and played to exhaustion in his 35 minutes Thursday night.

Because this was a team-wide loss, a spectacular collapse on both ends of the floor.

Let’s start with the most surprising side of this: the disappearing offense.

Takeaways:Hawkeyes can't back up their lofty ranking, suffer humbling loss to Indiana

Iowa's Luka Garza was surrounded constantly in the second half but still managed to score 28 points with 12 rebounds.

Iowa, with the No. 1 adjusted offense in the country, didn’t make a basket on 18 consecutive possessions after taking a 53-44 lead with 12 minutes to go. Now, there were some free throws sprinkled in there ... but Iowa missed 12 straight shot attempts and committed four turnovers in that defining stretch.

Iowa failed its first true white-knuckle test since a gritty road win Jan. 2 at Rutgers.

It was puzzling. Maddening. Agonizing.

Or, as Garza put it on multiple occasions: “Upsetting.”

CJ Fredrick’s lower-leg injury that caused him to miss the second half was a big deal. He’s a guy that stretches the defense and is willing (and able) to make big shots, and Iowa needed big shots.

Annual Indiana nemesis Jordan Bohannon was unusually silent against the Hoosiers, shooting a perplexing 0-for-9 for the game — 0-for-8 from 3. He had been 22-for-35 from 3 during Iowa's five-game winning streak.

And after scoring 15 points in a brilliant first half, Wieskamp only tried two second-half shots and scored one point in the final 23:47.

The defense was lacking, too.

Indiana actually went on a 9-0 run after its lone star player, Trayce Jackson-Davis, left with his fourth foul.

“Our man wasn’t good. We went to the zone; they were destroying it,” Wieskamp said.  They were killing us in the paint, then kicking it out for 3s as well and knocking down shots. Credit to them.”

More:What we learned from humbling Iowa loss

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn’t sugar-coat his analysis.

“They were tougher than we were tonight, I thought,” he said. “And that's disappointing.”

Added Garza: “We’re a team that prides ourselves on playing really hard and playing together, and we did neither of those things to the level that we can tonight.”

McCaffery came up short, too.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, center, talks to his team during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

He had been pushing the right buttons with lineup groupings much of the season, but without Fredrick and 5-for-23 team shooting from 3 (21.7%), he couldn't unlock a winning combination. Indiana gained momentum in the second half and Iowa — despite playing just one game last week and one this week — ran out of steam. He admitted he should’ve tried more of Joe Toussaint, who scored all seven of his points in the final 1:21.

But maybe the most eye-opening admission from the head coach was a reference that the Hawkeyes didn’t take this game as seriously as they should’ve. That was something that was affirmed by the two players selected for postgame Zoom interviews; that practice intensity wasn’t good enough this week. And that led to a team that failed, McCaffery said, to execute the game plan.

“We just need to look in the mirror and kind of not focus on the hype surrounding our team,” Wieskamp said. “There’s a lot of buzz around our team and people telling us how good we are. At the end of the day, we have to go out here and prove it.”

Come March, we’ll find out whether Thursday was a humbling, turning-point moment that rallied a loaded team of high-character, experienced, driven players… or a sign that that this Iowa team was overhyped and never built to match the buzz. 

The former is where the focus lies for Garza, still the leading candidate for national player of the year.

What happened Thursday is the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes were believing the early NCAA Tournament brackets that showed them as a potential No. 1 seed … and forgot that every Big Ten opponent is going to be a grind. Indiana is a mid-pack team (9-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten), but it plays in the best league in the country and moved up to No. 22 in Ken Pomeroy’s national ratings based on analytics after Thursday’s win.

By the way, Iowa stayed at No. 3.

No, it’s never going to play great defense. But it’s hard to imagine the offense cratering like it did Thursday.

Nothing fell down the stretch. Nothing. From the No. 1 offense in the country.

Now, eight days — barring a Big Ten scheduling surprise — until the Hawkeyes (12-3, 6-2) get back on the court Jan. 29 at Illinois.

You can bet practices will ramp up in intensity again.

Garza said you can hold him to that. He’ll put that on his shoulders, too.

“I promise, the rest of the year, every Hawkeye team that steps on the court,” Garza said, “will be locked in and ready to go.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.