Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball foes: Single-team Luka Garza at your own risk

Iowa center up to 22.7 points per game after 44 at Michigan

Iowa's Luka Garza (55) reacts after scoring against Texas Tech during the Hawkeyes' 72-61 win on Nov. 28 at the Orleans
Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) reacts after scoring against Texas Tech during the Hawkeyes’ 72-61 win on Nov. 28 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (John Locher/Associated Press)

The promotion at Michigan’s Crisler Center last Friday was Star Wars Night, with people in costumes from that movie on the concourse and so forth.

It would be easy to say Iowa had Luka Skywalker in the Hawkeyes’ men’s basketball game against Michigan, but Luka Garza is no high-flyer. The 6-foot-11 junior center is an old-fashioned post player that there don’t seem to be as many of in the current era. Garza relies on positioning, strength and moves, and leaves the leaping to the game’s skywalkers.

Michigan Coach Juwan Howard’s defensive strategy for the Hawkeyes was one they hadn’t seen much of this season: Single-team Garza and worry about sticking to Iowa’s perimeter threats.

Did it work? Kind of. Garza scored 44 points and Iowa got 91. However, Michigan tallied 103, and got the victory.

“If we give up 103 points,” Garza said, “we’re losing that game no matter what.”

Nonetheless, what Garza did Friday has to have opposing coaches wondering how best to defend against Iowa.

“Their game plan was Luka wasn’t going to beat them on his own,” said Iowa guard Connor McCaffery, “and he was damn close. He dominated in every sense. Whoever they put in, he scored on them.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

It was only the seventh 40-point performance in Hawkeye history, and Garza became the second Iowa player to ever reach 44.

“It’s not like there was a single time I was like ‘Wow, he’s really playing out of his mind,’ ” McCaffery said. “Those are all shots I’ve seen him make and I expect him to continue to make them.

“If that’s how he’s going to be defended, then he’s going to get 40 every game, I guess. Honestly.”

What went unnoticed Friday is Garza passed the 1,000-point career mark in the ninth game of his junior season. He averaged 12.1 and 13.1 points his first two seasons, and has 65 career starts.

Now, however, he truly is the man in the middle. Tyler Cook left after last season to go to the NBA. Garza has assumed the position that suits him best, and he’s racking up playing time with 36 minutes in each of the last two games. That’s also old-school.

So here we are going into Monday’s 7 p.m. Minnesota-Iowa game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, with Garza averaging 22.7 points. Through Saturday, that was tied for eighth in the nation, and was over five more points per game than anyone else in the Big Ten.

“He’s a worker,” McCaffery said. “He works. He’s in the gym all the time. He’s getting shots up, he’s working on his post moves, he’s lifting all the time.”

That echoed what Garza’s father, Frank Garza, said after the game.

“Most of it is practice,” Frank said, “and the rest of it is work. The reward of all that is what you’re seeing. He did three workouts a day this summer.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Frank Garza averaged 14.3 points for Idaho as a senior. Luka’s mother, Sejla, played high-level basketball in Europe. He has a grandfather who played at Hawaii, an uncle who played at Oregon State, a cousin who played at St. John’s.

Frank gives Cook a lot of credit for how his son is playing this year.

“Tyler was a leader on his team,” Frank said, “and Luka learned so much from it, some of his best stuff and some intangibles.”

“And,” Frank said about the bigger role that suddenly opened for his son, “he wanted it.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.