By John Bohnenkamp
Fran McCaffery scanned Luka Garza’s line in the box score after Iowa’s 103-76 win over Southern on Friday.
Garza’s numbers were impressive — 41 points and nine rebounds, 14-of-15 from the field (12-of-12 in the first half), 3-of-3 in 3-pointers, 10-of-12 in free throws.
What McCaffery, Iowa’s coach, especially liked was what Garza said after the game.
McCaffery was hard on the Hawkeyes in back-to-back media timeouts in the second half. They would finish the day being outrebounded, 42-37, by the Jaguars, including a 19-10 edge in offensive rebounds.
“We’re going to miss shots,” McCaffery said. “We’re going to have stretches where we’re just killing it, we’ll have stretches where we’re not making shots. Get to the offensive glass. They had 19, we had 10. We’re not supposed to get outrebounded in this game. And it’s all on the offensive end. They outrebound us by five, they had nine more offensive rebounds. So I think that was the one thing that upset me.”
It was one of the things that bothered Garza, too. Iowa only outscored Southern 45-41 in the second half.
The Hawkeyes, Garza said, had gotten too comfortable with a big lead. You can get away with that on a Friday afternoon in a nonconference game, you’re not going to get away with that in the games that are coming up.
“We’re going to get beat by teams if we let them have that many offensive boards,” Garza said, echoing McCaffery. “For us, that was a big thing in the locker room after the game. It was to just not get comfortable no matter what the lead is, and to continue pushing forward.
“I think my job, as a leader, I have to be a little better in that area, just continue to push our team to close out games better than we did tonight.”
Those words, McCaffery said, are important coming from a player like Garza, the preseason player of the year in the Big Ten who was the only unanimous selection to the Associated Press’ preseason All-America team.
“I think, all in all, I appreciate him saying that,” McCaffery said. “Any time you have that kind of accountability in the locker room, I think it’s better when it comes from there than when it comes from me.”
There were a lot of reasons why Garza came back for his senior season. One of the main reasons for the 6-foot-11 center was how last season ended.
That was the first question he took during Friday’s press conference, about how the Hawkeyes were poised to try to make a run in the Big Ten tournament and then the NCAA tournament, and then in a span of a few hours had all of that canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was definitely hard. It was heartbreaking for all of us,” Garza said. “I went into the offseason, and I didn’t really have any closure. So I went straight to the gym and started working again. It hit me later, a month later, and I finally took a break. I was like, ‘This season is really over.’”
A new season has just started. The Hawkeyes are 2-0 with wins over North Carolina Central and Southern. But North Carolina is coming up. So is Iowa State. So is top-ranked Gonzaga. So is the Big Ten opener against Purdue. All games that come before the calendar flips to 2021.
So Garza knows it’s best to speak up now. November is about correcting things, December is about building on that.
That’s why he challenged his teammates.
The Hawkeyes were 34-of-62 from the field, 12-of-24 in 3-pointers, in Friday’s game, but Garza knew there were a lot of misses of shots that his teammates can make.
“We’ve got a lot of confident shooters,” Garza said. “The next time a team plays a zone against us, we’re going to bury them, and make a lot more threes.”
It’s those kinds of words that McCaffery appreciates from Garza. Veterans, he knows, understand the pulse of the schedule.
“I think you want them to hold themselves accountable,” McCaffery said.
It’s what Garza did after the game.
“There’s nothing to be comfortable about,” he said. “We’re two games in. We know what’s coming ahead of us.”