Iowa center Luka Garza sometimes appears to have an entourage on the basketball court, but those flanking him aren’t wearing Hawkeyes uniforms.
The spotlight is always on the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Garza, who averages 29.2 points and is considered the front-runner for national player of the year. Those credentials draw serious attention from opponents, who have exhausted the playbook trying to slow down the big man.
No. 1 Gonzaga is next up for Garza and the third-ranked Hawkeyes in a Saturday showdown at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“In the post, he’s seen it all,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They crowd him, beat him up, front him, double on the catch, double on the bounce. They come late, they come early. So nothing fazes him in that sense and neither does the physicality because he’s used to that.
“The ability to move him around is what’s critical – play him at the high post or low post, play him at the top of the key or on the wing. There’s a variety of things we can run with the way he’s shooting the 3-ball, the pull-up, and his ability to make plays for other people is really critical.”
Garza established himself as one of the best bigs in college basketball last season while averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds as a junior. The new-and-improved Garza has hiked his shooting percentages to nearly 70% from the field and behind the 3-point line compared to 54.2% and 35.8%, respectively, a year ago.
Some foes have taken extreme measures to try to limit Garza’s damage.
“Nebraska last year was probably the one I was, ‘OK, this is just weird,’” said McCaffery’s son Connor, a junior guard. “They pretty much tried to put five people in the paint and they kind of got lucky when we played there (because) we shot like 4 of 100 from 3, but then when we played at home we won by 30.”
Michigan took a different approach, crowding Iowa’s perimeter shooters and allowing Garza to operate one-on-one. He scored 44 points.
“The coaches in the Big Ten game plan so well,” Garza said. “Nebraska was the most extreme I’ve ever seen, having three guys on me at all times. I’ve seen box-and-one at different points. I’ve played a lot of defenses and know how to react and adjust to different defenses. I think that’s just an advantage of being an experienced guy.”
Garza has had games with 41, 35 and 34 points this season. He was a force even when he was held to season-low 16 points on 6-of-20 shooting by North Carolina.
“A lot of teams just foul, try to beat him up and see how long he can last and see how he can take it,” Connor McCaffery said. “That was another thing against Carolina. A lot of people (were) saying, ‘Oh, he didn’t have a good game.’ He had four (UNC) 7-footers all have four fouls. People that don’t know basketball don’t understand that.”
Garza’s ability inside and outside, coupled with Iowa’s collection of shooters, puts stress on defenses. The Hawkeyes are averaging 100.5 points with 70 3-pointers through six games.
“When you have every guy on the court that can shoot the ball at a very high level, it’s hard and teams really need to make a decision on what they’re going to do,” Garza said. “For me, it also creates a lot of space. It’s why I came back (for his senior season) because I knew the potential of the group and I knew how I could fit in with all the space they provide by their ability to shoot the ball.”
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