Garza works his way into go-to role with Hawkeye basketball

Luka Garza’s work ethic has propelled him into a key role for Iowa men’s hoops, and Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery had praise for the big man after the Hawkeyes' season-opening win.

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Garza works his way into go-to role with Hawkeye basketball

Iowa center Luka Garza takes a shot during a men's basketball game between Iowa and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cougars, 87-60. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa center Luka Garza takes a shot during a men's basketball game between Iowa and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cougars, 87-60. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa center Luka Garza takes a shot during a men's basketball game between Iowa and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cougars, 87-60. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa center Luka Garza takes a shot during a men's basketball game between Iowa and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cougars, 87-60. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

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Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery challenged Luka Garza to be a double-double player for the Hawkeyes this season. One game into the new campaign, Garza has done exactly what his coach asked of him.

Garza finished Iowa’s 87-60 win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Friday with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting while also grabbing 12 boards and blocking two shots.

Garza was active in the paint early for Iowa.

In the first five regular-season minutes of the game, Garza scored six points and secured four rebounds — two of them on the offensive end. With 15:06 remaining in the first half, Garza put an exclamation point on his impressive opening to the season, taking a charge to negate an SIUE basket.

Getting its big man going was part of the game plan for Iowa, as the Cougars did not have the size to match him.

“We wanted to get the ball inside; we knew we had the advantage,” Garza said. “We wanted to get it to me, Jack [Nunge], or Ryan [Kriener] and drive the ball in, and I think we did a really good job of that. I was put in great positions by my teammates who got me the ball.”

Just before the halfway point of the first half, Garza displayed the kind of elite footwork expected out of a third-year Big Ten post player. Garza worked his defender until finding a comfortable position down low to go up and convert on a layup.

Later, shortly after the second half started, Garza hit a layup despite being fouled for the and-1. The foul sent Garza to the free-throw line, a location the junior got quite comfortable at Friday night.

Garza made 6-of-10 shots from the charity stripe against the Cougars.

The Washington D.C. native is expected to see this type of increased production throughout the 2019-20 season with Tyler Cook no longer in the frontcourt. Being a go-to option is something Garza is prepared for.

He’s worked for it.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around,” McCaffery said. “That’s no exaggeration. He never takes a possession off at either end. We’re throwing him the ball. He’s going to make a play one way or the other. He gets to the free-throw line. We can run our offense through him.”

That hard work is often behind the scenes, but Garza’s teammates have a first-hand look.

“He’s a big part of our team,” freshman guard Joe Toussiant said. “I come in and shoot here at night, who do I see? Luka Garza. I come here in the morning, and who do I see? Luka Garza. He’s just always working, willing to work. He’s just a hard worker. He’s always in the gym, last one out most of the time.”

The work Garza put in over this offseason — in an effort to get stronger and faster — is already evident early in the season.

Garza has embraced the role of being the key big man for the Hawkeyes, a position he’s always been ready for.

“Obviously, it was great to play with [Cook] — taught me so much,” Garza said. “When he left, I just realized I was going to have to step up into his role a little bit. All those plays we ran last year are coming toward me a little bit more. I’ve always been ready for that. I’m always trying to climb the ladder and just be as good as I can be.”

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