IOWA CITY — OK, so he isn’t the premier Luka in basketball.
Iowa’s Luka Garza isn’t Luka Doncic, who is two months younger than Garza. Almost nobody is Doncic, though. He is ascending into his sport’s stratosphere as a Dallas Maverick almost averaging a triple-double through the first two weeks of his second NBA season.
That’s double-digits in points, rebounds and assists, and it’s insane.
But if Garza is vying to be the Most Valuable Luka in the college game this season, he got his candidacy off to a great Friday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The junior center had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ season-opening 87-60 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (1-1).
The Cougars of the Ohio Valley Conference didn’t use anyone taller than 6-8 or heavier than 215 pounds, and the 6-11, 260-pound Garza exploited it.
“I think we really followed our game plan,” Garza said. “We wanted to get the ball inside. We knew we had an advantage. We wanted to get it to me, Jack (Nunge) or Ryan (Kriener), driving the ball in there, and I think we did a really good job with that. I was just able to be put in great positions by my teammates who got me the ball.”
Garza had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first half, and blocked a shot with five seconds before intermission for a nice topper. Ten of his points came in the first nine minutes as the Hawkeyes opened a 19-9 lead, and he was a consistent performer in an uneven half that ended with his team up 38-26.
Despite Garza’s willingness to work the boards, Iowa was out-rebounded 18-15 overall and 6-3 on the offensive glass in the half. Garza kept aggressively going to the basket, though, shooting eight free throws to SIUE’s two by halftime.
The Hawkeyes managed to finish the game with a 38-31 rebounding advantage, giving them edges in every statistical category that mattered. Especially in free throws, where they were 27 of 32 compared to SIUE’s 4 of 4.
So, the Cougars actually were better in free throw percentage.
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SIUE scored first in the second half to pull within 10 points, but the Hawkeyes then methodically showed they were worthy of being 24-point favorites.
Garza scored off a nice feed from Joe Wieskamp with 11:36 left for his final points, and left the game for good shortly after.
What had been made clear is that he is a center this season, not a power forward.
“I just worked hard over the summer trying to just get stronger,” Garza said, “and not that I moved into kind of TC’s (departed player Tyler Cook) position at the 5, I’m actually playing more of a traditional center for sure.
“It was great playing with TC. He taught me so much. When he left I realized I was going to step into his role being a 5-man. All those plays we ran last year are now coming toward me more. I’ve always been ready for that. My entire career I’ve been trying to climb the ladder, just be as could as I can be.
“I wanted to be a go-to guy. Obviously, now me and Joe are kind of the go-to guys here.”
Wieskamp had 16 points. He led all Joes in 3-pointers with three. Teammate Joe Toussaint, wearing a pair of colorful shoes that didn’t come close to matching, made a pair of threes and scored nine points in his college debut.
Fellow freshman guard C.J. Fredrick had four points in 19 minutes and matched Jordan Bohannon for game-high in assists with four. Bohannon had nine points in 19 minutes, and played a little point guard as he tries to work his way back to his normal role as he deals with life after May hip surgery.
“I felt like I was playing good defense with my feet,” Bohannon said.
The Hawkeyes resume action Monday at 7 p.m. against DePaul (3-0). The Blue Demons beat Fairleigh Dickinson Friday in Chicago, 70-59.
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Oh, Doncic had 38 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists Friday for the Mavericks. Another triple-double.
“I had one in high school,” Garza said. “I think I had 27-17-10. I had 10 blocks.
“I don’t know if I can get 10 blocks (here). If I do, it will be impressive.”
The Hawkeyes will eat well if he can come up with a steady diet of double-doubles like Friday’s. However, he’s right. Ten blocks would be impressive.