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Now Iowa's go-to guy, Garza is responding with all-American-type numbers

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa center Luka Garza scored his 1,000th point Friday at Michigan.

Not all in one game. It just seemed that way.

The 6-foot-11 junior entered the Hawkeyes’ ninth game of the season already on an all-Big Ten Conference trajectory. And then he took off.

Garza won the opening tip, scored 15 of Iowa’s 17 points and finished with 44 of them in a 103-91 loss. It was the most points ever scored by a Hawkeye post player, and the most overall since John Johnson’s 49 in 1970.

“He’s got a ton of different moves,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said afterward. “He never stops moving. He sprints hard in transition. He posts hard. So he’s a handful for anyone who’s trying to guard him.”

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) dunks against North Florida's Wajid Aminu (2) during a NCAA non-conference men's basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Garza is averaging 22.7 points and 9.8 rebounds as Iowa (6-3) prepares for its Big Ten home opener at 7 p.m. Monday vs. Minnesota (4-4). The game will be televised on BTN.

It will pit Garza against Gophers sophomore center Daniel Oturu, who is averaging 17.5 points and 10.9 rebounds.

This is what Garza will face most nights in Big Ten play. There are dominant big men throughout the league. On Friday, he battled with the Wolverines’ Jon Teske, who got into foul trouble and scored 16 points in only 23 minutes.

“That’s what’s fun about being part of this league. That’s kind of why I signed up for it,” said Garza, a native of Washington, D.C. “You’re going to get that competition every night. And that’s what’s going to get you better.”

No Hawkeye has made a bigger leap this season than Garza. He averaged 12.1 points as a freshman, 13.1 as a sophomore. That’s when he had Tyler Cook alongside him at power forward.

Cook is playing professionally now. Jack Nunge began the season as Iowa’s starting power forward, but was lost to a torn ACL after five games. McCaffery has gone with a smaller lineup since, and that means Garza is often a one-man show in the paint.

And what a show it has been. On Friday, Michigan tried to guard Garza with a single player. Iowa’s perimeter players recognized the mismatch and fed him early and often. Garza attempted 32 shots, making 17. He grabbed six offensive rebounds. He drew 11 fouls, going 10-for-13 at the free-throw line.

Garza played 36 minutes, sprinting downcourt to establish position, sealing off his defender and then showing his impeccable footwork to score time after time.

“We're really going to him,” McCaffery said last week of Garza. “He's taking a lot of shots, but he's making them inside, making them from mid-range, making 3s, and getting to the free-throw line.”

Garza has attempted 143 field goals and is making them at a 56% rate. No other Hawkeye has attempted more than 83 shots. He has gotten to the free-throw line 54 times and converted 65% of those. No other Hawkeye has shot more than 30. Garza is 9-for-21 from the 3-point arc, for a 43% success rate that is second on the team. He did miss all three of those attempts Friday, the one thing that went wrong for him offensively.

He’s playing at an all-American pace so far this season.

And he’s done that while being called for only 15 fouls, which is allowing him to average 29.5 minutes per game.

“I’ve just been a little more conscious about it this year,” said Garza, who fouled out three times in his first two seasons while averaging 2.4 fouls per game. “I think a lot of it came from defensive stands, when I’m kind of standing up and then I’ve got to get low to go somewhere. That’s when I kind of get late in places and then I get cheap ones. I think I’ve tried to reduce as many stupid fouls as I can.”

Garza knows his team needs him now more than ever, with Nunge injured and senior guard Jordan Bohannon’s long-term status uncertain.

He said he’s ready to keep shouldering the load for the long haul. He has missed only three games to injury in his career.

“There’s bumps and bruises everywhere. But that comes with playing that much and at this level,” Garza said. “I’m just doing the best I can to prepare myself to be healthy throughout this long season.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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