Iowa basketball takeaways: Trying to explain defense, an overlooked milestone for Garza

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MINNEAPOLIS — Afterward, it was up to the lone senior on the Iowa men’s basketball team to try to make sense of what had happened Sunday inside Williams Arena.

“We can’t start games this way,” Nicholas Baer said. “Obviously, you score 87 points, you expect to win any game of the year. … We understand the defensive end is what’s going to take us where we want to go.”

The defensive end was where it all went awry in a 92-87 loss to Minnesota, which enjoyed its best shooting afternoon of the Big Ten Conference season. The Golden Gophers delighted a crowd of 11,572 by making 57.1 percent of their field goals.

Iowa (16-5, 5-5 Big Ten) found itself on its heels on defense throughout the first half, allowing a whopping 55 points while forcing only three turnovers.

“I thought our rotations were slow. I don’t think we did a good job executing our gameplan. We knew they had a couple of good shooters. We let them get going,” Baer said. “Ask any shooter. If they can knock down their first or second shot, then they’ll stay hot. They were able to do that.

“They’re not a team that looks to push it as much. Obviously, we gave them opportunities to push it.”

Iowa allowed a season-high in points. That effort came against a Gophers team averaging 68.5 in league games.

“I think we just weren’t as locked in as we wanted to be. And that was unfortunate, because that’s something we can control,” Iowa center Luka Garza said. “That was the worst part.”

Iowa center Luka Garza heads to the basket for two of his 25 points against Minnesota on Sunday. That tied a career-high for the sophomore and marked his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points. But Garza was disappointed in his defense. Iowa lost 92-87.

Iowa players denied that the first half of the Minnesota game represented a hangover from the second half of Thursday’s loss to Michigan State. The Spartans scored 51 points in that session and made 67 percent of their shots. Minnesota shot 66 percent in the opening 20 minutes Sunday.

But it does make you wonder.

“We flushed that,” Garza said of the Michigan State defeat. “We came out here, we wanted to bounce back. We knew we had an opportunity here to get a good win on the road.”

Iowa had won its previous two road games, at Northwestern and Penn State. But Sunday’s effort at Minnesota wasn’t nearly good enough. And that much was apparent from the opening tipoff.

“We just weren’t able to keep the intensity up and pressure the ball. We were letting open shooters get open shots,” Garza said. “They were driving baseline. I myself did a poor job cutting that off.”

Garza shies away from elite scorer talk

The sophomore accomplished something Sunday that no Hawkeye had done in four years. He scored 20 points or more in a fourth consecutive Big Ten game. Aaron White was the last to do so, in 2015.

Garza tied career-highs with 25 points and three 3-pointers made. He needed only 13 shot attempts to get those 25 points. He is averaging 14.8 points per game.

“Teammates are finding me in my open spots,” Garza said of his recent offensive success, before quickly changing the subject.

“I’m not too proud of myself tonight. I think I was poor on the defensive end.”

The whole team was. But let’s at least take a moment to appreciate what Garza has brought the Hawkeyes night in and night out on the offensive end.

Taking stock at Big Ten's halfway point 

Iowa dropped its first three Big Ten games this season, won its next five and now has lost two. There are 10 regular-season games remaining, starting with a 6 p.m. Friday home date against Michigan.

The Hawkeyes find themselves midway in the league standings (seventh) at the midway point of the season with a middle-of-the-road record. Seven of the final 10 games are against teams below them. There is still plenty of opportunity for Iowa to climb into the top five in the league. But it can’t afford any more halves of basketball allowing 50-plus points.

“We knew coming into the season, first of all, it’s the best league in the country, a lot of great teams. There’s going to be ups and downs,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said.

“I don’t think you’ll find us moping around. We lost a basketball game (Sunday) to a good team, a team we feel like we definitely could beat. But that’s the game. So we’ve just got to come back and be ready.”