Hawkeyes Keep The Focus, Rout Kennesaw State

Iowa's Luka Garza (left), Joe Toussaint (center) and Joe Wieskamp enjoy the closing moments of Sunday's win over Kennesaw State. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

How many times has Iowa had its full men’s basketball roster at practice or at workouts this season?

One time, Fran McCaffery said, since June.

Does he remember when?

“No,” McCaffery said, laughing.

All of the injuries and illnesses the Hawkeyes have had this season — don’t ask McCaffery to pronounce what was ailing forward Riley Till, who missed last Saturday’s game against Cincinnati in Chicago — have made this a tough few months for the Hawkeyes.

Yet, Iowa is nationally ranked — No. 25 in the AP poll — and on a four-game winning streak heading into the resumption of Big Ten play next weekend.

Sunday’s 93-51 win over Kennesaw State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was a sharp performance, something McCaffery wasn’t worried about after watching the Hawkeyes for three days of practice coming off Christmas break.

The players weren’t worried either.

“We knew we had to get out here and take care of business,” center Luka Garza said. “I thought we did a good job of that, executing (the game plan). We all came back in shape. We really pushed each other every day in practice. For this game, we were focused.”

Garza scored 23 points and Ryan Kriener added a career-high 20 for the Hawkeyes (10-3). Kriener made all nine of his shots, while Garza was 9-of-11.

Getting them the ball was a big part of Iowa’s game plan, and McCaffery knew his team understood.

“I thought our guys recognized when Luka was hot early,” McCaffery said. “We recognized when Kriener was going.”

Kriener noticed how the Hawkeyes weren’t sluggish coming back from the break that started after last Saturday’s 77-70 win over Cincinnati at the United Center.

Iowa was off until Dec. 26, but the Hawkeyes came back ready, Kriener said.

“This is probably the best shape this team has been in as a whole since I’ve been here coming off the winter break,” Kriener said. “That speaks a lot to our commitment. As a senior, that’s one of those little things that means a lot to me.”

The Hawkeyes have lost forward Jack Nunge (knee) and Jordan Bohannon (hip) for the season. Patrick McCaffery, Fran’s son, is still out as he deals with health issues related to his treatment for thyroid cancer in 2014. That leaves Iowa with nine scholarship players.

The Hawkeyes were even missing a walk-on for this one — guard Austin Ash has mononucleosis.

And then there was the schedule.

Sunday’s game was the first at home for the Hawkeyes in 20 days. Starting with the Las Vegas Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend, Iowa played three neutral-court games, three road games, and the lone home game against Minnesota on Dec. 9.

The Hawkeyes went 5-2.

“They deserved a break after the tough stretch we had before Christmas,” McCaffery said.

There was a focus to the Hawkeyes, and McCaffery said that could be seen in the numbers. Iowa had season highs with 14 steals, 27 assists and eight blocked shots. The Hawkeyes had 34 points off 24 Kennesaw State turnovers, and had 64 points in the paint, compared to just 22 for the Owls.

It was a season-high in points for the Hawkeyes, who shot 39-of-65 (60 percent) for the game.

Garza has scored 20 or more points in eight games this season. He added eight rebounds, just missing his fourth consecutive double-double.

Kriener, who came into the game averaging 6.3 points, scored in double figures for the second time this season. His previous career high was 15 on three occasions, the last time in a game last season against Michigan.

Forward Cordell Pemsl went 4-of-6 from the field, so the three frontcourt players combined to go 22-of-26.

“Our guys recognized when Luka was hot early, recognized when Kriener was going, got the ball to Cordell in (one) stretch,” McCafffery said. “That’s what we do — we move the ball and share the ball.”

Kriener liked his statistic line.

“Didn’t miss a shot, no turnovers,” he said. “So that’s good.”

It had to be the shoes

Iowa freshman guard Joe Toussaint struggled to keep his footing in the Cincinnati game, eventually changing his shoes at halftime.

He still has the offending pair.

“Oh, no, I’ve still got them,” Toussaint said. “I’ll just won’t ever put them on again.”

Toussaint bounced back with six points, seven assists, and only two turnovers in this game. He played just 3 ½ minutes against Cincinnati, with no points or assists and three turnovers.

“I think he grew up from the last experience,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s had three really great workouts, and got back with the right mindset and frame of mind. I thought he really controlled the game tonight, really impressed me.”

Toussaint said he never lets bad games bother him. If he does have a bad game, he goes to his mother for advice.

Her advice was simple.

“She said, ‘Just slow down, change my sneakers, and I’ll be fine,” Toussaint said.

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