Garza garners lofty comparisons after win over Western Illinois

After another strong showing Wednesday night, Garza statistically stacked up to some of the best players in college basketball history.


Katie Goodale

Iowa Center Luka Garza goes in for a basket during the Iowa v. Western Illinois basketball game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Iowa defeated Western Illinois with a final score of 99-58. Garza scored a total of 35 points.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

After dominant performances in each of his first two games of the season, reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza put his talents on full display again Thursday evening.

The senior center led Iowa to an explosive 99-58 victory over Western Illinois with a 35-point, 10-rebound double-double.

On the season, Garza is averaging 34 points per game. Statistically, Garza has even drawn comparisons to three-time NBA Most Valuable Player and LSU graduate Shaquille O’Neal.

Garza has scored 102 points on 75 percent shooting through three games in 2020-21, making him the only Division I player in the last 25 years to score over 100 points on 75 percent shooting over any three-game stretch. The last player to accomplish the feat was O’Neal in 1996.

Garza’s 102 points is also the most any Division I men’s basketball player has scored through the first three games of the season since three-time NBA Champion Stephen Curry scored 106 points in his first three games at Davidson in 2008-09.

Despite his overwhelming success early this season, Garza isn’t worried about point totals or accolades. So long as he sticks to the blueprint he’s created for himself, Garza believes he can play at a high level.

“I approach every game, every practice the same way,” Garza said. “I think I just got to continue to do what I do and just put forth the effort that I do. If I play as hard as I can every single game, every time I step on the floor, I’m going to be just fine. For me, I just try to be consistent with my effort every single day. You know, you’re going to make some shots, you’re going to miss some shots, you know that’s basketball. I’m prepared, I’ve worked hard, and I’m ready to continue to keep going and just play as hard as I can every time I have the blessing of stepping on a basketball court.”

For head coach Fran McCaffery, Garza’s early supremacy has been promising, but he knows Iowa still has yet to play its toughest opponents. Through five combined games, the first three teams the Hawkeyes have played have earned just one win.

“It’s going to be a lot harder,” McCaffery said. “[North Carolina] has five guys over [6-foot-11]. We haven’t played anybody that has anybody [6-foot-11]. They’ve got bigger bodies. They’ve got guys that are going to be pros. So, it’ll be a little bit different, but we’re not going to change what we do.”

Garza has also spotted things he and his teammates have to work on if they are to maintain the pace they’ve set through three games.

“I think we have some lapses at different times where we go through stretches where we’re trading baskets a little bit,” Garza said. “We need to cut down on those as much as we can. We’ve had really, really good stretches on the defensive end and on the glass. If we can keep those stretches more consistent, and do away with the lapses, I think that’s going to be big for our team. I think we just have to continue to go out there and play hard.”

“That was a big lesson from last week – that we needed to get to the glass more,” Garza said. “Especially because we know the teams that are coming in like [North Carolina] are going to be even better offensive rebounders. . . I think there’s a lot of things that we all know we’re just trying to improve day by day. There’s a lot of things we can do to do that.

McCaffery agrees with Garza’s sentiment, noting that the Hawkeyes’ consistency has to improve going forward – especially with teams like North Carolina and Gonzaga on their schedule.

“I think we have to be a little more consistent,” McCaffery said. “If you’re going to play Carolina, you’ve got to be more consistent. . . We’re obviously stepping up in class. No disrespect to the teams we just played, but when you’re playing Carolina, it’s a different animal.”

The Hawkeyes will officially welcome the Tar Heels to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.