Does the following player sound familiar?
He is pushing 7-foot tall, averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds over his last two games, plays for a team that is 6-3 in the Big Ten and ranked in the Top 20, and grew up about a 40-minute drive from the University of Maryland.
He isn’t Iowa’s Luka Garza, though Garza fits that description almost precisely. His averages over the last two games are actually 24.5 points and 15.5 rebounds.
No, the player in this case is Maryland 6-10 sophomore Jalen Smith, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. Garza and Smith tangle again Thursday night, this time at Maryland. Both men are on a roll. Both are on teams that are on a roll.
The Hawkeyes come to Xfinity Center in College Park, Md., with a five-game win streak that began Jan. 10 in Iowa City when they handled Maryland, 67-49. The Terrapins have won their last three games.
Smith has a short trip home to Baltimore from his College Park campus. Garza’s Washington, D.C., home is no commute from Iowa City, but this game allows his family and friends from the area a chance to see him play in person.
Garza is bringing season averages of 23.1 points and 10.7 rebounds. Smith’s averages are none too shabby at 15.2 and 9.6, and he’s certainly been bringing it lately.
“He’s making 3s, they post him up, he’s got great hands,” said Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery Wednesday. “He gets loose stuff and finishes it. He’s playing, I think, with real good energy. They’re going to him.”
It sounds like a description of Garza, too, does it not?
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Smith was on the preseason All-Big Ten team, not Garza, who now is on midseason All-America teams and is a National Player of the Year candidate. When Iowa beat Maryland 67-49 in Iowa City on Jan. 10, Garza had 21 points and 13 rebounds to Smith’s 13 and 5.
That game was an aberration for the 16-4 Terrapins. It’s their only loss by double-digits, and it was one of the 15-5 Hawkeyes’ best performances. Maryland was held to 32.7 percent shooting from the field, and was 4-of-22 from 3-point distance. Iowa out-rebounded the Terps, 44-32.
Trying to post a reasonable facsimile at Maryland is indeed a challenge for the Hawkeyes.
“I think we defended pretty well that night,” McCaffery said. “We got some consecutive stops.
“They’ve essentially been unbeatable at home. They’ve got two really good road wins since we played them.”
Smith is but one asset in a sturdy lineup, captained by senior point guard Anthony Cowan.
“You have to understand how gifted they are offensively,” said McCaffery. “You’ve got to defend them. If you try to just outscore them and go toe to toe with that way, they’re pretty impressive.
“You have to defend, you have to rebound, you have to contest, you have to respect some talented guys they have. They’ve got good players. It will be a great atmosphere and a great test for us.”
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