Luka Garza’s 30-point performance leads Hawkeyes to lopsided road victory over Badgers

Garza was held to eight points his last time on the court. Wisconsin wasn’t as successful at shutting him down.


© Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 18, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes center Luka Garza (55) looks to shoot as Wisconsin Badgers forward Micah Potter (11) defends during the second half at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

MADISON, Wis. — Joe Wieskamp knew what was going to happen on the court at the Kohl Center Thursday night. And there wasn’t anything Wisconsin could do to stop it.

Luka Garza had only scored eight points in Iowa’s previous game, an uncharacteristically low number for the nation’s leading scorer. The Badgers weren’t as fortunate. Garza scored 30 points to lead No. 11 Iowa (16-6, 10-5 Big Ten) to a 77-62 win over No. 21 Wisconsin (15-8, 9-7), the program’s largest margin of victory in Madison since 1988.

“I knew after he struggled a little bit last game that he was going to come out and kill it tonight.” Wieskamp said. “He was playing with a lot of confidence. Shots were falling for him. And when that happens, it starts to open things up for other players.”

That includes Wieskamp, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. The junior scored 17 points and buried five 3-pointers.

But it was unquestionably Garza’s night.

Less than five minutes into the contest, the senior had scored nine points, already surpassing his Feb. 13 total in Iowa’s road victory over Michigan State.

“I think anytime you’re on the road, you want to get a lead, establish your best player, and kind of go from there,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s pretty much what happened.”

As is typical of the national player of the year favorite, Garza scored in a variety of ways against Wisconsin. Near the basket, the 6-foot-11 center converted post feeds from his teammates into easy layups. When Garza found space near the free-throw line, he popped a jumper for two.

And, especially in the first half, Garza stepped out beyond the 3-point line to attack a weakness in Wisconsin’s defense.

RELATED: Rapid Recap: No. 11 Iowa men’s basketball team defeats No. 21 Wisconsin, 77-62, at the Kohl Center

In a 30-second span near the end of the first half, Garza knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. Iowa noticed in film study leading up to the game that Wisconsin, which Garza says has a good pick-and-roll defense, tends to sit low on a ball screen. That leaves the Badgers vulnerable on the perimeter when a post player can shoot off a pick-and-pop play — which Garza can.

“Are you serious, Luka?” ESPN commentator Dick Vitale said on the air when Garza hit his second 3-pointer of that sequence. “Luka are you serious? Come on! Wow!”

At this point, those around the Iowa program know Garza is, as Vitale said, serious. And that is serious trouble for the team’s opponents.

Fueled by Garza’s play, Iowa used a 14-0 run to jump out to an early lead against Wisconsin. Early in the second half, the Hawkeyes led by as many as 16 points. But the Badgers cut that lead to three points with just over nine minutes to go in the game.

“We went into that timeout and were like, ‘That was their run. It’s time for ours,’” Garza said. “We have an experienced group. It’s happened a couple times where we get a big lead in the second half and we aren’t able to close it out. But we know a team like Wisconsin is not going away.”

After that timeout, the Hawkeyes outscored the Badgers 28-16 the rest of the game. Garza scored eight points in that stretch. As a team, Iowa made eight of its last nine shots from the floor and Wisconsin only hit two of its final 12 field goals.

Garza hit 11 of his 19 shots (4-of-6 from 3-point range) on his way to his 12th-career 30-point game, the second most in program history (John Johnson leads with 13). After his effort Thursday, Garza is only 14 points from surpassing Roy Marble as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer.

The Washington, D.C., native could accomplish that feat in Iowa’s next game — a Sunday contest against Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

If he does, it will be the latest accomplishment in a dominant career full of them.

“My main focus [Thursday] was just getting back to what I do: Playing as hard as I can and not worrying about anything else other than trying to make the plays to help my team win,” Garza said.

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