Iowa's Luka Garza prepares for another battle with Michigan, hopes for a better outcome

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The last time Iowa played Michigan, Luka Garza put on one of the greatest showings in Hawkeye basketball history.

But his team came away with a loss.

So that’s a troubling memory for the Iowa center as the teams get set to meet again at 8 p.m. Friday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game televised on FS1.

“I played pretty well in that game, but I think there was a lot of things we could have done better, especially on the defensive end,” Garza said Thursday when asked about that Dec. 6 103-91 setback in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I look back at that game as a lost opportunity. That was a road game we could have won, especially with the way we were able to score the ball.”

Garza had 44 points in that game, the most ever for a Hawkeye post player. It was also the most scored by a visiting player in the 53-year history of the Crisler Center.

It was not a feel-good moment for Garza, however. The junior leads the Big Ten Conference in scoring at 22.3 points per game. He’s been automatic all season. He’s measuring success purely by wins.

Iowa center Luka Garza is used to getting a lot of attention from opponents and teammates alike this season. He leads the Big Ten Conference in scoring at 22.3 points per game. Next up is a Michigan team that allowed Garza to score 44 in the first meeting, but walked away with a win.

And the No. 24 Hawkeyes (12-5, 3-3 Big Ten) have a prime chance to go on a winning streak with three games at home following Tuesday’s victory at Northwestern. First up is the first rematch of the season, against a No. 20 Michigan team that sits at 11-5 and 2-3 in the conference after losing at Minnesota on Sunday.

The Wolverines are 0-4 on the road this season. And they are focusing so intently on not giving up 3-pointers (opponents are making a mere 29%, the third-best mark in the Big Ten), that big men like Garza are carving them up inside. Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu had a career-high 30 points against Michigan, three days after Purdue’s Trevion Williams scored 36.

Michigan has insisted on not double-teaming in the post, leaving centers like 7-foot-1 Jon Teske to try to battle alone with the likes of Garza.

Garza is ready for Round 2, if that’s what happens.

“If they give me space to be able to isolate Teske, I’m going to try to take advantage of that as much as I can. And I’m always prepared for the double-team because that’s what I’m used to facing,” Garza said.

“If they play that way, we have to find a way to get our shooters shots.”

Iowa made only 3 of 15 3-point attempts in the first meeting with Michigan. The Wolverines, meanwhile, punished the Hawkeyes on ball-screens and with back-cutters finding easy lanes to the basket. Michigan made 55.2% of its shots and reached the free-throw line 34 times.

The Wolverines will be playing without starting forward Isaiah Livers, a 50% 3-point shooter who scored 14 points in the first meeting. He has a groin injury.

The Hawkeyes plan to have freshman guard CJ Fredrick back in the lineup. He returned Tuesday after missing two games with a stress reaction in his left foot. Fredrick said Thursday he was sore after playing 31 minutes in that contest but mainly from not practicing for two weeks. His foot, now out of its walking boot and with orthotics installed to help with cushioning, felt fine.

Fredrick is Iowa’s third-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game. He also averages 3.1 assists and knows what all Hawkeye perimeter players do: The road to success on the offensive end must run through Garza.

Fredrick knows he can help with that effort by being a threat to score on the weak side of the offense, by constantly moving without the ball.

“If our offense becomes stagnant and we’re all standing, then they’re all going to be able to sit in the lane and be able to key on him,” Fredrick said of the defensive attention typically being paid to Garza.

“We definitely see how they’re playing him, but it seems to me any way they try to play him, it doesn’t work, because he figures it out. We just need to get him the ball and he’ll do the rest.”

It’s not quite that simple, but Garza has been making it seem like it. He said he learned last season from forward Tyler Cook how to spend the first few possessions of a game surveying the defensive gameplan, and then adjusting quickly to combat it. Cook is playing professionally now. Garza knew he would become a marked man in his absence. And he has flourished despite that.

“He's got a really good feel now of when and where the double-team is coming from and how quickly to get rid of it or shoot it. Sometimes you can shoot it before the double-team gets there, sometimes you can't,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Garza’s evolution as a player. “But he's not turning it over. He's not spinning and charging and committing fouls.”

Garza leads the nation with seven games in which he’s had 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds.

He was asked how he would gameplan to stop himself.

“I’d try to get me in foul trouble,” Garza answered without hesitation. “That’s the easiest way to get me out of the game.”

That’s what Northwestern did Tuesday.

Garza still ended up with 27 points in 24 minutes.

“I know I need to be out there for our team to have success,” Garza said.

This time, the Hawkeyes just have to play better defense to complement Garza’s offense.

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