Iowa center Luka Garza on first-half foul trouble: 'I've got to be smarter'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza is the starting center for the Iowa men’s basketball team, but he has played a mere 22 first-half minutes during his team’s three-game winning streak.

He’s picked up two early fouls in each contest, and it’s no secret that Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery doesn’t want his players heading into halftime saddled with three fouls.

So Garza sat. And he stewed.

“I’ve got to be smarter,” Garza said Thursday as the No. 17 Hawkeyes (19-5, 8-5 Big Ten Conference) prepare for a 5 p.m. Saturday game at Rutgers (12-12, 5-9) on FS1. “It’s hard to establish a rhythm in a game.”

Garza is coming off his first scoreless outing of the season in Sunday’s win over Northwestern. He had only four points in the game before that, a victory at Indiana. In the Feb. 1 upset of Michigan, Garza was able to rebound from an unproductive first half with 15 points after intermission. The difference in that game, he explained, was that he’d hit a couple of early shots before heading to the bench with two fouls.

“We’re better when I’m on the court and I’m able to play to the best of my ability. So that certainly is frustrating,” Garza said. “I don’t want the ref to be in a position to take me out of the game.”

The game plan for opposing teams has been to go at Garza to try to force him into fouling. He was coming off a seven-game stretch in which he averaged 19.7 points. The best way to defend Garza is to send him to the bench.

Luka Garza hasn't been able to give Iowa his usual intensity the past two games because of first-half foul trouble. He was held scoreless for the first time this season on Sunday vs. Northwestern. "He's just got to learn," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery says of his sophomore center. "He'll be fine."

“He has to really do a good job of anticipating what's going on and move his feet and get where he needs to get to and tall up and not get a cheap one,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his sophomore post player. “He's just got to learn. He'll be fine.”

Iowa junior power forward Tyler Cook can sympathize with Garza. He found himself sitting out long stretches of first halves in his first two seasons.

“If I’m playing against us then I want me or him out of the game, if not both of us,” Cook said. “So I’m sure that teams, especially Rutgers, another team with size, will go at us on the inside.”

Garza knows this as well.

“They’re going to be aggressive with me and they’re going to try to attack me in the post, attack me off the drive,” he said. “I’ve just got to be better in my rotations. I’ve got to be there early and beat the guys to the spot.”

Iowa won twice with little contribution from Garza. But it’s not a viable path going forward. He’s too important on the offensive end.

Baer in concussion protocol, but no one seems to know when he got hurt

Iowa senior forward Nicholas Baer took an apparent shot to the head late in the Northwestern game and woozily headed to the bench for the final 3 minutes, 10 seconds. He’s in concussion protocol and has a chance to play Saturday, McCaffery said.

But here’s the odd part of the story: No one, not even Baer, is sure when exactly he got hit. The Hawkeyes have pored over film from the game, from every angle, and can’t see it. Baer doesn’t recall, McCaffery said.

“Let's say it happened eight plays before when he went down. He doesn't remember that, and it's possible that he wouldn't, if, in fact, he got hit,” McCaffery said. “But you know how he plays. He's all over the place. So he's going to get hit.”

“Any time you're in traffic at this level, you can get hit in the head. And it's not necessarily malicious or intentional. Just happens. Everybody is going for the ball,” McCaffery said.

“I'm happy to report he's doing a lot better. If we played a game in the middle of the week, he wouldn't have been able to play. But he's got a shot now.”

McCaffery also said that freshman forward Joe Wieskamp, who has been battling a sore back, is expected to play Saturday. He scored 21 points against Northwestern despite the issue.

Bohannon doesn't have souvenir of his big shot (but mom has him covered)

Jordan Bohannon drained the 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left that lifted Iowa to an 80-79 win over Northwestern on Sunday. As you would expect, the video clip went viral. It was No. 2 on ESPN’s top plays of the day.

But Bohannon doesn’t get to keep the ball, he said Thursday. The Hawkeyes intend to keep using it.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?” Bohannon laughed when asked about it Thursday.

He doesn’t have any other keepsakes from the moment, Bohannon said, although he’s sure his mother, Brenda, will frame a photo or two.

Bohannon said he had to turn his phone off for 24 hours after his game-winner because he was getting so many congratulatory text messages. He watched video clips of his shot a few times, and really enjoyed the one set to the theme song from “Titanic,” but was ready to move on from that moment.

“I wouldn’t have been able to hit that shot if it wasn’t Connor (McCaffery) throwing a good pass to me to be able to get one dribble into my shot. I wouldn’t have been there if TC wasn’t able to run to the rim,” Bohannon said, later nitpicking himself on the most memorable play of the Iowa season.

“I could have probably set a better angle on the screen with Tyler. Because he probably even could have got a better run to the rim and I could have got a little more space on my shot.”

That’s the takeaway of a perfectionist. But there’s also this: Bohannon scored 40 points in two Iowa wins last week while wearing his grey Kobe Bryant sneakers.

“I may have to wear those shoes a little more often,” he said.