Garza set to lead the way inside

With Tyler Cook gone, Luka Garza will be the go-to guy in the paint for Iowa.


Lily Smith

Iowa forward Luka Garza drives to the basket during the Iowa/Michigan Big Ten Tournament men's basketball game in the United Center in Chicago on Friday, March 15, 2019. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes, 74-53.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Last season, Luka Garza took the tan and blue hardwood in Columbus, Ohio, to play in his first NCAA Tournament.

It was the culmination of solid performances during a rough season in his first year at Iowa in 2017-18. It took enduring a disappointing 14-19 season that included a 4-14 mark in Big Ten play, but eventually, Garza visited the place he wanted to go.

During that run, however, Garza teamed on the block with Tyler Cook, Iowa’s leading scorer the past two seasons. This coming season, Cook won’t draw the attention of opposing defenses for the Hawkeyes. Garza will be the go-to guy inside.

“I’ve got to step up and be more of a leader now,” Garza said. “Kind of replace what [Cook] did, which is kind of hard because he was obviously really, really good. I’m just working hard to become that guy that people look to like we looked to Tyler last year.”

Garza will certainly be a focal point heading into next season. He’s one of only two starters set to return to the floor for sure for Iowa, depending on Jordan Bohannon’s recovery from hip surgery.

His role might expand even more, however.

In 2018-19, Garza scored 13.1 points per game, with 4.5 rebounds a game, up in scoring from 12.1 points during his freshman season.

He ranked second on the team behind Cook last season with a use percentage of 25.4, but he placed first with a 22.7 player-efficiency rating.

If Garza’s use rate goes up, it could pay dividends for Iowa in all aspects of its offense.

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“I’ve got to be able to be that inside presence for us to make teams collapse on us and get it out to our shooters,” Garza said.

The NCAA moving the 3-point line back this coming season could also play to Garza’s advantage inside and potentially outside.

Garza, who shot 29.2 percent from beyond the arc last season, said he started practicing from the new distance of 23 feet, 1.75 inches when he heard it was proposed.

With Bohannon’s season in question and Isaiah Moss suiting up for Kansas, a solid 3-point shot from Garza would be welcomed by all the Hawkeyes.

“Looking back, one of the things I wanted to improve on the most was my 3-point shot,” Garza said. “I think I lost consistency with my form throughout the year, and I just had to go back to the basics … Hopefully, next year I can use it as a weapon.”

The same rule change could also affect Garza and Company inside, allowing them to carve space in the paint to get high-percentage looks.

“When you make a rule change like that, what are you trying to accomplish? Freedom of movement and then also more low-post play,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We’re pretty good in that area, so hopefully that will help Luka, Ryan [Kriener], Jack [Nunge], and Cordell [Pemsl] in some ways.”

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