Joe Wieskamp, Luka Garza ready to put Hawkeyes on their backs
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Wieskamp started to smile before a reporter even finished the question Friday.
Can Luka Garza and he continue to carry the Iowa Hawkeyes’ offense the way they did so brilliantly in a 67-49 blowout of No. 14 Maryland at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
“I think so,” Wieskamp said. “Obviously, teams are going to focus on us. … So it’s going to be very tough for us to score. But I think we’re two guys that are comfortable with taking tough shots, and we’re guys that can score at a high level.
“I’m always a scorer. That’s what I’ve always been. It’s nothing new for me, and I’m excited to take on this big of a role.”
Wieskamp and Garza provided exactly what the depleted Hawkeyes needed Friday, what they will need for the foreseeable future if this star-crossed team is to make an improbable run at the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa needs stars. It has two. And they came to play.
Wieskamp scored a career-high 26 points against Maryland (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten Conference). The sophomore guard from Muscatine has 70 points in his past three games, the best scoring stretch of his career. He is averaging 20 points in five league contests.
“When you’re a hard worker like Joe Wieskamp is, shots are going to fall,” Garza said.
“If he’s not aggressive. If he’s not confident, we don’t win that game.”
Garza could say the same about himself. He missed his first three shots Friday, two of them blocked by the Terrapins’ Jalen Smith. But Garza always finds a way this season.
He ended up with 21 points and 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double in his past seven games. He has 10 for the year, the first Hawkeye with that many since Greg Brunner in 2005-06. And Iowa (11-5, 2-3) has at least 16 games left.
“It’s all about reading defenses,” Garza explained. “I knew I had to get deeper post position, use the rim as a protector. I went to the reverse lay-in a couple of times just because he couldn’t get to that. It’s all about reading and attacking.”
Reading and attacking. Garza kept using that phrase.
Wieskamp played 39 minutes Friday. He made four of his first five 3-pointers one game after missing nine of 10 from that distance in a loss at Nebraska. But his most important adjustment was being aggressive off the dribble, not merely being a catch-and-shoot perimeter player.
His coach, Fran McCaffery, noticed. He approved. Much of Iowa’s offense will fall on Wieskamp’s shoulders now.
That’s because the Hawkeyes keep losing talented players. Forward Jack Nunge went out early with a knee injury. Freshman Patrick McCaffery is likely done for the year with some lingering health issues related to the thyroid cancer he overcame as a teenager. Senior point guard Jordan Bohannon’s season ended after 10 games due to hip surgery. And now shooting guard CJ Fredrick is out indefinitely while trainers monitor a stress reaction in his left foot.
The Hawkeyes wearing suits and sitting on the bench would make a formidable opponent for the ones who were in uniform Friday.
“No one expects us be any good this season. We’re missing Jordan, one of the clutchest players. CJ, Jack, Patrick. A lot of really good players,” Wieskamp said, again smiling while thinking about the challenge.
“But if we stay connected with the guys we do have, we’ll be just fine.”
Wieskamp admitted it was a struggle at first to embrace becoming a guy who launches shot after shot. He has attempted 39 of them in Iowa’s past two games. He is more comfortable being a team-first player, he said. But he was required to score 30-plus points a game in high school in order to get Muscatine to the state tournament. And that’s how he views his job with the Hawkeyes now.
“I realize I have to score the ball for us to win. I’ve got to take a lot of shots. My teammates are doing a great job of finding me,” Wieskamp said. “If us two can keep it going, I think it’s going to open up other things for other players, and then when they get it going, vice versa.”
Maybe. But that may not be necessary. Iowa has a range of role players to help Garza and Wieskamp. Ryan Kriener is the lone senior, and he had seven points and six rebounds Friday. Freshman point guard Joe Toussaint rallied after a shaky start to provide five assists and three steals. Sophomore guard Connor McCaffery has been a mainstay in the starting lineup alongside Garza and Wieskamp, and is among the nation’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio.
But only Garza and Wieskamp can provide the volume of scoring that Iowa will need to compete in the Big Ten. Everyone can see that. The Hawkeyes do. Opponents do.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery acknowledged the impact Garza and Wieskamp have on the entire team when they’re playing as well as they did Friday.
“Everybody else can settle down, and then we find ways to get them the ball,” McCaffery said. “I thought our guys really locked into that. We knew those guys need to see it, and we got it to them.”
Garza is playing at an all-American level this season. Wieskamp has been in recent games. How long can the Hawkeyes ride those two?
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys who can help us,” said Garza, who fought off a 101-degree fever to have his way with the Terrapins. “But I think me and Joe as leaders can step up and definitely carry the weight in different ways. … And when other guys aren’t hitting shots, I think both of us, if we are scoring at a high level, we can keep the team afloat."
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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