Luka Garza, road defense key for Iowa

Luka Garza has been phenomenal, but Iowa’s road defense has not.


Lily Smith

Iowa forward Luka Garza attempts a shot during the Iowa/Michigan men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, February 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes took down the No. 5 ranked Wolverines, 74-59.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

A lot of things go into Iowa basketball’s No. 20 ranking, but one of the most important aspects of the Hawkeyes’ impressive season is big man Luka Garza.

Averaging a career-high 15.1 points to go along with 4.8 rebounds, the Washington native has been a force when it comes to scoring, making for a scary frontcourt when paired with Tyler Cook.

Garza has dropped at least 16 points in each of his last seven contests, including a four-game stretch in which he scored at least 20.

In Iowa’s upset of No. 5 Michigan, he put up 19 points and 8 boards in just 21 minutes of action — his fifth-lowest minute total of the season.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said Garza’s increase in production is a product of the 6-11 sophomore being healthy, and Garza agrees but thinks there’s more to it.

“I think I’m just playing with a lot of confidence,” he said. “My teammates are finding me in my spots, I’m going out there and playing as hard as I can … It definitely helps to be back and not with a sprained ankle.”

His scoring is something McCaffery said he knew could translate from high school to college.

Ben Smith
Iowa forward Luke Garza (55) drives the ball against Southern’s Chris Thomas (4) during the game between Iowa and Southern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Dec. 10.

“He has an unbelievable knack for getting the ball in the basket,” McCaffery said. “He will make a 9-footer while he’s getting banged off the glass in traffic look like a layup. That’s really hard to do. Then he’ll step out and make a 3, then make a 12-foot jumper, an 18-foot jumper, a 23-foot jumper, a shot fake one dribble pull-up. He has the total package when it comes to scoring the ball.”

RELATED: Iowa looks to get back in win column against Big Ten-leading Michigan

Defense a key on the road

It’s no secret that when Iowa’s defense isn’t connected, beating the Hawkeyes gets a lot easier.

In Iowa’s three losses on the road, it has given up at least 86 points each time — 90 in East Lansing, 86 in West Lafayette, and 92 in Minneapolis.

The Hawkeyes bounced back from the bad defensive performance at Minnesota to shut down Michigan on Feb. 1, giving up only 59 points.

Now, the challenge becomes playing defense with the same level of intensity on the road.

“You don’t have the home crowd behind your back; when they’re scoring, their crowd is getting going,” freshman forward Joe Wieskamp said. “You got to stick together as a team, stay together. After free throws, get in huddles, talk, because it’s hard to hear sometimes.”

McCaffery ties Olson on Iowa all-time wins list

With the Hawkeyes’ stunning win over the Wolverines on Feb. 1, McCaffery tied former Iowa coach Lute Olson for second on Iowa’s all-time victory list.

The win over Michigan was No. 167 for McCaffery, who started coaching at Iowa in 2010 and is in his ninth season with the Hawkeyes.

McCaffery emphasized Olson’s impact as a person and said it feels good to be mentioned with him.

“When I first got here, reached out to him and wanted to talk to him about it; we spent a lot of time together and subsequently have gotten closer,” McCaffery said. “I think [he] set a great standard for how to be not only a great coach but a terrific person, somebody that I would emulate and take advice from.

“So any time you’re mentioned with him, that’s a tremendous feeling.”