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MADISON, Wis. — There has been sentiment growing in some circles for Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu to be considered a serious challenger to Iowa's Luka Garza for the Big Ten's men's basketball Player of the Year award, and thus, National Player of the Year honors.
Dosunmu is a wonderful player having a wonderful season, and his recent late-game heroics have fueled that talk as much as his consistently fine play.
But Garza may have put the cork back in that bottle Thursday night with a 30-point performance that paced No. 11 Iowa's 77-62 win over No. 21 Wisconsin at Kohl Center.
The senior center's seventh 30-point game of the season came after he scored just eight in Iowa's 88-58 rout at Michigan State last Saturday. He had missed more shots than he made in each of his last four games, an uncharacteristic stretch for him. He wasn't bad, mind you, but wasn't performing like a Player of the Year.
This, though, was POY stuff on a night when many Hawkeyes glowed. Garza made 11 of 19 field goal tries and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
'I knew he was going to come out and just kill it tonight,' teammate Joe Wieskamp said. 'You could tell. His mindset in practice and coming out on the floor tonight, you knew that he was just going to kill everyone in front of him.
'He was playing with a lot of confidence. Shots were falling for him. When that happens it starts to open things for other players.'
'For me,' Garza said. 'the main focus was getting back to what I do. ... The last couple games, I kind of got away from that.'
Iowa (16-6, 10-5 Big Ten) has played so well of late that it could afford Garza to put up mortal offensive numbers. For the third time in its three-game win streak, it played good defense. Wisconsin (15-8, 9-7) shot a dreadful 30 percent from the field, and made but 4 of its first 30 attempts.
The Hawkeyes didn't have everything to do with that, but definitely outdefended the defensive-minded Badgers. Iowa shot 51 percent overall and rained in 12 of 19 3-pointers for 63.2 percent.
'I think our defense from start to finish was pretty good,' said Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery.
The Hawkeyes' 43-27 second-half lead was whittled to 49-46, but there was no losing the entirety of a big lead as they did in losses to Indiana and Ohio State. They hit four 3-pointers in under three minutes to pull away again, and led by as much as 18.
Wieskamp had 17 points. He had two first-half fouls, and got his third with 16:13 left in the game. It didn't matter. He still made 5 of 6 treys and is a scorching 15-of-20 over the last three games.
'Obviously my shot is feeling real good right now,' Wieskamp said. 'I'm playing with a lot of confidence, playing aggressive.'
Freshman forward Keegan Murray had a career-high 12 rebounds for Iowa. Guard CJ Fredrick returned after missing the Michigan State game with a leg issue and played 31 minutes with four assists and no turnovers.
Iowa, alone in fourth place in the Big Ten after consecutive commanding road wins, plays Penn State at home Sunday at 4 p.m.
In that game, Garza is expected to become Iowa's all-time leading scorer. He has 2,103 points, 13 shy of Roy Marble's school record.
Garza, Fredrick said, is 'the epitome of Iowa basketball. Everyone here knows he's Player of the Year. He's our guy.'
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