Garza Knows To Expect Anything

Iowa's Luka Garza (left) had 44 points in the Dec. 6 game against Michigan. (USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Luka Garza started getting media attention last season when he had seven consecutive games of 16 or more points, including four consecutive in which he averaged almost 22 points.

Garza followed that with four games in which he scored just 16 points.

Lesson learned.

“I think that was one of my focuses in the offseason,” the Iowa junior center said on Thursday. “Be mentally ready.”

At this point of the season, Garza has seen everything, on and off the court. He’s getting national attention as he averages a Big Ten-best 22.3 points, 27.2 points in conference play.

That leads to attention from opponents. Those numbers come as he sees just about every kind of defensive combination.

Only San Diego State, which held him to nine points on a night when he had foul trouble, has been able to hold him to single digits in scoring.

Garza’s best game was a career-high 44 points against Michigan on Dec. 6. He’ll see the Wolverines in Friday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and there’s no telling what kind of defense he’ll get.

The odds that the Wolverines will focus on the Hawkeyes’ outside shooters, and just send one big body at Garza, aren’t very good, considering what he did that night and what he’s done since then.

“I’m prepared,” he said, “for every way.”

It’s experience, coach Fran McCaffery said, that has helped Garza adapt.

“He's got a really good feel now of when and where the double-team is coming from and how quickly to get rid of it or shoot it,” he said. “Sometimes you can shoot it before the double-team gets there, sometimes you can't. But he's not turning it over. He's not spinning and charging and committing fouls. He's moving the ball, and sometimes we move it, move it, move it, and then we throw it back into him, and I think that's what you have to do. He's got to know when he gives it up, he might get it back, and he knows that.

“Yeah, he has (seen different defenses), and to be truthful I'm sure he did in high school, it's just a little bit guys are bigger and guys are quicker, the double-team is getting there quicker, the rotations maybe are a little bit better, but there's nothing he hasn't seen.”

“I’ve seen a lot of different types of defenses,” Garza said. “I’m prepared for anything. I just come out with the same mindset every game. If they’re going to limit me, we’re going to move the ball around, get open shots for our shooters.”

The Hawkeyes faced that when Nebraska’s defense packed the lane against Garza in the Jan. 7 game in Lincoln. Garza still got a double-double with 16 points and 18 rebounds, but the Hawkeyes were 4-of-33 in 3-pointers in the 76-70 loss.

Garza learned how to deal with double-teams by watching forward Tyler Cook last season.

“The first couple of possessions is just reading,” Garza said. “I’m still trying to get deep post position — if I catch it deep, I’m going to score.”

Someone asked Garza how he would defend himself.

“How would I guard me? I would try to get me in foul trouble,” he said, smiling.

Garza scored the first 10 points in Tuesday’s game at Northwestern, but got into foul trouble and didn’t score for more than 25 minutes. He came back to score 14 consecutive points in the second half of the 75-62 win, and finished with a game-high 27 points.

So, even foul trouble might not make a difference.

“I just stayed composed as much as I could,” Garza said. “I had confidence throughout the entire game that when I was out there, I could score the ball.”

Garza has logged more than 517 minutes this season. He is averaging 30.4 minutes per game.

That, too, is something he prepared for in the offseason.

“I know I need to be out there as much as I can be,” Garza said. “I’ve gotten my body to a level to where I can play 40 minutes a game.”

The Wolverines will be the first team to have seen Garza twice this season. Anything is possible.

Garza knows that, because it’s the way it’s been all season.