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Iowa center Luka Garza reacts after scoring 17 points in a 77-54 win against Northern Iowa in the Hy-Vee Classic. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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Someone was going to pay for Luka Garza’s two-game slump.

Iowa’s sophomore center had made just 3 of 16 shots, scoring eight points in 38 minutes, looking lost at times, in games against Michigan State and Iowa State.

“I was missing shots that I haven’t missed since I was in kindergarten,” Garza said of his most recent outing, a win over the Cyclones on Dec. 6. “I just got back in the gym.”

Garza drilled a 3-pointer early in the No. 21 Hawkeyes’ 77-54 win over Northern Iowa on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. He proceeded to fire up 14 shot attempts — twice as many as any of his teammates. Seven of them found the bottom of the basket. Garza scored 17 points, tying with Tyler Cook for most in the game.

“I just came out and, ‘OK, these next couple games, I’m going to take it out on the other team and get back to the normal flow,’” Garza said.

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Garza averaged 16 points per game in Iowa’s first five contests — all wins. He was aggressive and confident. That’s what he showed again Saturday as the Hawkeyes ran their record to 8-2 with a Tuesday home game against Western Carolina up next.

“He was able to dominate inside. He did a really nice job sealing, getting good looks and he just stayed with it,” Iowa senior forward Nicholas Baer said of Garza. “He missed a couple of bunnies, but he either went back and got them or he kept going the next time. So that’s what we love about Luka — he plays with so much tenacity.”

Garza, plowing through an undersized Panthers’ front court, grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds in his 26 minutes of play. He missed shots he normally makes and was called twice for traveling. But it never seemed to bother him, as he kept taking it at Northern Iowa double-teams, playing through contact and emerging with a vivid cut on the left side of his face.

“He missed a short one early and then he came back and whacked a 3. That’s really who he is,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Garza. “He was really a go-to guy.”

Garza said it all started with a determined week of practice after the Iowa State win. He played strong defense in those sessions. He let his instincts take over on offense, not rushing his shots as he did against Michigan State and Iowa State.

Garza had no doubt he was ready to take all that pent-up frustration out on the Panthers.

“Games that you look back on, it’s, like, ‘That’s a game I could have dominated’ — that’s kind of the mindset,” he said of the previous two opponents.

“I got to all the moves I wanted, I got to the shots I wanted; I just wasn’t finishing them. I’d be more frustrated if I couldn’t get to those shots, get to those jump hooks or open jumpers. I just had confidence in that.”

That confidence came to the forefront Saturday. Garza was back to his old ways, with three additional lower-level opponents on deck before Big Ten Conference play resumes in the new year.

This could be a triumphant December after all for Garza.

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