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Iowa center Luka Garza explains why he keeps talking about "stepping into the ring" these days. It's an interesting analogy: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa center Luka Garza kept talking about “stepping into the ring” when discussing his team’s latest victory.

No, he’s not mixing up his sports. Garza said Hawkeye assistant coaches Sherman Dillard and Andrew Francis have repeatedly talked about basketball in boxing terms this season.

If Wednesday’s game had been a prizefight, the referee would have stopped it. Or Alabama State would have thrown in the towel.

No. 22 Iowa built a 19-point lead in the first 8 minutes and pummeled the cowering Hornets 105-78 before an announced crowd of 12,939 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It’s definitely an interesting mentality that the coaches have brought upon us,” Garza said after scoring a game-high 22 points. “When we get in there, it’s us and them. No one else can help you. It’s kind of that boxing mentality. When we step in the ring, we want to make that first punch and keep going.”

The Hawkeyes (5-0) certainly did that.

“I think that’s a sign of maturity. I didn’t think we would come out in any way, shape or form not ready to play this game,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

Next up is an 8 p.m. Tuesday home game against Pittsburgh as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

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The passing was superb

Iowa hadn’t had a positive assist/turnover ratio all season. It was perhaps the biggest blemish on their perfect start.

That was no issue Wednesday. Joe Wieskamp assisted on the first two baskets of the game, both by Garza. Connor McCaffery came in at point guard and promptly found Wieskamp for a pair of 3-pointers and Ryan Kriener for a jump shot.

McCaffery finished with a career-high seven assists. Iowa had 20 for the game, against only eight turnovers.

“I thought we ran, our spacing was good, and we moved the ball,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We threw it ahead, threw it inside, moved it to the weak side, and drove and kicked it.”

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Iowa guard Connor McCaffery comes off the bench looking to pass. Listen to him explain how he decides who needs the ball: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

 

Connor McCaffery said he surveys his team while on the bench and notes which Hawkeyes have a hot hand, or which could use an easy basket or two.

Wieskamp, coming off a one-point performance in Friday’s victory over Connecticut, fit both descriptions.

“I’m definitely looking for him,” McCaffery said of Wieskamp. “When guys are hot, you want to keep them hot. You want to feed them, because they’re feeling good, they’re feeling confident. Odds are they’re going to make the next couple shots they take. That’s my job.”

He has been doing it very well.

Wieskamp takes over early, smiles late

Wieskamp made just 1-of-8 shots last week in Madison Square Garden as his team outmuscled No. 20 Oregon and UConn to win the 2K Classic. He also had five turnovers. He was happy with his defense, but admitted it bothered him to be so ineffective on offense.

By Wednesday, all was good. Wieskamp scored a career-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting, with three assists and no turnovers. You could sense his relief in the postgame interviews.

“I know what I’m capable of doing offensively so I just got back in the gym,” Wieskamp said. “I just came out this game trying to be aggressive.”

Film work helped Wieskamp as well. He critiqued his performance in New York and decided there were shots available that he hadn’t seen in live action.

“I just tried to read the defenders better, tried to find open gaps, cut off screens better,” Wieskamp said. “Little things like that that can make a big difference.”

He has scored in double digits in each of Iowa’s three home games.

The crowd brings its own energy

Iowa entered the national rankings Monday for the first time in three seasons. The locals clearly took notice. The crowd of nearly 13,000 was the largest of the season, and considering it was Thanksgiving Eve against a lowly opponent, that was no given.

The players fed off that buzz, getting out to a 12-0 start. Iowa scored 68 points in the first half, the most in McCaffery’s nine years as coach. The 105 points were the most since a 109-63 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 14, 2013.

McCaffery said he, too, sensed there may be something special brewing here, a fan base ready to embrace a team that is much better than last year’s 14-19 version.

“The team is winning. We had a great performance in New York. Everybody saw it. So I think they are getting behind the team,” McCaffery said.

“And it was great to see. It’s great to be able to come out on the floor and see that kind of support.”

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