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Iowa basketball: Luka Garza's monster first half sends No. 6 Hawkeyes past Southern

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As much as Luka Garza’s reliable dominance makes robust stat lines seem almost mundane — 20 points here, another double-double there — there’s always a chance for something special when the ball is tipped. Any Iowa foe can fall victim to the absurd.

Southern, welcome to the list.

With a hefty mismatch down low and a motor the Jaguars had zero containment for, Garza turned Friday’s lopsided matchup that followed football into something significant with a jarring opening act. The Iowa senior had 36 points and didn’t miss a shot in the first half — good enough to outscore the entire Southern roster en route to a 103-76 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

"It's just the flow of the game," Garza said. "I didn't have to say anything to anybody. They were just finding me in my spots, and I was open and I was able to get the ball in a position to score." 

Garza’s senior quest for college basketball supremacy was bound to produce some ridiculous box scores, yet one like this — this early in the season — is still staggering. It didn’t take long to see this half was different.

Garza delivered an instant helping of versatility, swishing a trey, muscling two buckets home in the paint and connecting at the line for eight of Iowa’s first 11 points. The No. 6 Hawkeyes needed a better start than Wednesday’s sluggish opening versus North Carolina Central, and Garza was the man to give it to them. The scoring kept coming — 13 in the first six minutes, 15 by the first-half’s midpoint, 19 by his first breather — with Southern barely able to stay ahead of the big man.

As soon as the Jaguars produced some offensive life, Garza wiped it away with a hardly-contested bucket on the other end. He finished the first half 12-for-12 with more misses from the free-throw line than the field. Garza led Southern by one at the break. All the Hawkeyes led by 23.

The preseason all-American closed with 41 points on 14-for-15 shooting, 3-for-3 from deep and 10-for-12 from the line — his first miss finally coming 28 seconds into the second half. Garza's minutes were understandably reduced after intermission as Iowa’s advantage climbed and climbed.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) shoots a free throw during a NCAA non-conference men's basketball game against Southern University, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Garza's 41 points are good for sixth highest in program history and most ever by an Iowa player in 39 seasons of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Garza's outing came four years and one day since Iowa's last 40-point showing (Peter Jok vs. Memphis on Nov. 26, 2016).        

"I didn't remember him missing much," Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said when asked if he knew Garza had a perfect half going. "What I'm excited about for Luka — and I've told you guys this — is he's killing the three-ball, shooting with confidence. To see him make threes like that — they played the zone — he pops out to the corner and whacks a three after we had missed a few possessions in a row.

"Killing it at the free-throw line too. I mean, they were obviously fouling him because they had a size disadvantage. He goes down there and either scores or gets fouled and makes them pay. I'm more excited with 3-for-3 (from deep) and 10-for-12 from (the line) than 14-for-15. And I'm sure he'd tell you the same thing."     

Other noteworthy Iowa performances included 16 points and four treys from Joe Wieskamp, quality reserve minutes via Keegan Murray and an almost 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Wieskamp rebounded from a foul-plagued opener with his most treys since January 10 against Maryland.    

Still, intensity permeated Iowa's huddle in the second half, particularly from McCaffery during one flawed stretch of rebounding. As this roster handles all eyes on them for the first time as a top-10 squad, highlighting spurts of futility in blowout affairs takes on a new meaning. 

"Coach talked about that after the game," Wieskamp said. "Obviously, we won by (nearly) 30. Everyone thinks it's a great game. But these are the games that prepare ourselves for a Gonzaga or an Iowa State or a North Carolina We've really got take advantage of these games."           

Regardless, this was still a quality Garza show. Expect more on the way in this emphatic season. 

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.