With Garza sidelined, Kriener sees bigger role for No. 21 Hawkeyes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa center Luka Garza will miss Saturday’s final non-conference men’s basketball game against Bryant with a sprained ankle.

That will mean power forward Tyler Cook must adjust his role. That will mean more time for backup center Ryan Kriener. That will mean plenty of angst about Garza’s status heading into the No. 21-ranked Hawkeyes’ Jan. 3 matchup at Purdue.

Iowa's Luka Garza (55) tries to get a shot off around UNI's JustinÊDahl (15) during their basketball game at the Hy-Vee Classic on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Des Moines. Iowa takes a 39-18 lead over UNI into halftime.

“It’s just day to day,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Garza’s ankle Friday. “He’s making progress, really working hard, has been really diligent with his treatment and he’s just not ready to go (Saturday).”

Garza won’t be needed against a smallish Bryant team sporting a 3-7 record. Iowa (10-2) will benefit from getting backup point guard Connor McCaffery back after he missed last Saturday’s win over Savannah State while recovering from a concussion.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Garza, a sophomore, averaged 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in Iowa’s first 11 games. He sprained the ankle late in a practice session the day before the Savannah State game.

Iowa center Ryan Kriener gestures that possession of the basketball belongs to the Hawkeyes during a Dec. 22 win over Savannah State. The junior figures to get extended minutes against Bryant on Saturday while starter Luka Garza sits out with an ankle injury.

Cook leads Iowa with 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Bryant doesn’t have anyone who can match up with the junior, who stands 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. McCaffery said starting at center might affect Cook’s assignments on the defensive end, but not really on offense.

It’s Kriener, at 6-9, 255 pounds, who figures to get heavier minutes as a result of Garza’s absence. He and Cook will be the only low-post players available with Jack Nunge and Cordell Pemsl already redshirting.  Kriener has played 48 minutes in Iowa’s last three games, all victories, contributing 12 points and 17 rebounds.

“He’s a smart defender. He’s got length. He can block shots. He plays ball-screens well. He slides his feet well if we have to switch,” McCaffery said of Kriener. “And then he’s a good passer. He’s a good shooter. He’s got low-post moves. I’m comfortable with him against pressure, against zone, against smaller guys.

“He’s just a guy that understands how to play. He’s got a complete skill set and he’s playing with confidence right now. It’s never good to have a guy out, but it’s another opportunity for him to grow and get some quality minutes.”