Luka Garza was Iowa basketball's bloody bright spot in dismal showing against Purdue

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza was the Hawkeye who came to play Saturday.

It was evident in the scorebook, where his 19 points were more than double what any other teammate produced in an 87-64 loss to Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

It was evident on his face, where a swollen lip and a bloody nose were reminders of Garza’s battles with Boilermakers senior center Isaac Haas.

“He’s a big dude. I kind of got caught up in there. I don’t think it was anything intentional. He was just trying to get to the rim, but it was an offensive foul obviously. You can’t turn like that when I’m there,” Garza recalled of one first-half encounter with the 7-foot-2, 290-pound Haas.

“I got hit all over the place (Saturday) and that just happens when you play … a big like that, that’s big and strong. I was playing hard just trying to get in his way, try to take away his confidence and slow him down any way I could. Obviously, he has size and strength on me.”

Iowa freshman Luke Garza is tended to by staff after taking an elbow to the nose against Purdue at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, January 20, 2018.

Garza picked up a second foul on Haas on that play but had to head to the training room for a long stretch of time as Iowa’s medical staff tried to stop the flow of blood coming from his nose. Garza impatiently watched on TV as Purdue’s 16-point lead ballooned to 30 while trainers were squirting liquids and stuffing gauze into his nose.

Finally, Garza returned to provide the only real signs of life the Hawkeyes showed while losing a fifth Big Ten Conference game by 10 or more points. Garza scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half. All three of his rebounds came on the offensive end.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery singled out his 6-11 freshman as a bright spot in another dismal outing for his team. This one came before the largest home crowd of the season, announced at 14,822. They had little reason to cheer.

“I would tell them, ‘Don’t give up on this group. This is a good group of kids and they’ll get it figured out,’” McCaffery said when asked what message he would deliver to a fan base that is becoming exasperated.

“I don’t know that we’re as confident as certainly I would like us to be. I think they’re battling. They’re trying to get some things going to develop confidence.”

Iowa held Haas to three points, but that was primarily because No. 3 Purdue had unprecedented success shooting from long range. The Boilermakers buried 20 3-pointers, the most ever in a Big Ten Conference game.

Iowa didn’t get much going inside either. Forward Tyler Cook, the team’s leading scorer, had more turnovers (three) than points (two) in the first half.

“They fronted me a little bit. I should have worked to get some more catches, more touches,” Cook said. “I missed a lot of shots that I don’t (normally) miss.”

Cook finished 3 of 8 in 26 minutes.

Cordell Pemsl scored two points in his 18 minutes.

Ryan Kriener was out with a concussion.

That left it up to Garza to carry the load, and he did, making 8 of 10 shots including a pair of 3-pointers. His 19 points came in just 20 minutes. No other Hawkeye scored more than nine.

Garza also picked up his team-leading 26th blocked shot of the season.

“We waited too long to kind of get that punch back,” Garza said, sounding like a team leader despite his rookie status.

“We all think we should have won that game and that’s everyone’s mindset in there. We believe, and we have the potential to do it. We’ve shown that we’re that good of a team before.”

Iowa finds itself with a 10-11 record. At 1-7, the Hawkeyes are 13th in the 14-team Big Ten.

Garza was asked what he would tell Hawkeye fans who are running out of reasons to believe in this year’s group.

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“They can’t know what we’ve seen every day going in to practice and working out and all these dudes that are hanging around the gym and grinding,” he said. “And everything we’ve done, everyone on the team has done their whole lives to get here. We know what we can do.

“The outside noise, it doesn’t really matter. Our fans. Any fans. We believe, and that’s the important part. Ourselves believe even when others don’t. There are some that don’t; there are some that do. We’re going to keep battling, keep working, keep believing.”

Keep bleeding.