By John Bohnenkamp
There isn’t a good answer for how to defend Iowa, Mark Few said on Thursday.
The coach of top-ranked Gonzaga knows his team has to figure out a way to defend Iowa’s Luka Garza in Saturday’s game against the No. 3 Hawkeyes in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Garza is second in the nation in scoring at 29.2 points per game. But given the way the Hawkeyes have been scoring this season — they lead the nation with 100.5 points per game — it’s not just defending Garza that Few is worried about.
Asked what his team can do to contain the 6-foot-11 senior center, Few said, “You don’t. You try your best. He’s shown on everybody he can post numbers in a variety of ways. So you’ve got to try your best, throw a bunch of different things at him. And all the while they’ve got a potent 3-point attack that’s just as dangerous as he is.
“It’s a fine line.”
The Hawkeyes rank sixth nationally with 11.7 3-pointers per game. Any combination of Iowa’s deep backcourt can cause problems.
But it will come down to how Garza is defended, and he’s seen it all in the last couple of seasons.
“For me, I play every game the same way — I just read and attack where I can affect the game,” Garza said. “I think, over time, I’ve played against a lot of defenses, so I know how to react to different defenses. And I think that’s the advantage of being an experienced guy.”
It may mean some creative plans from the Bulldogs. Again, not something Garza hasn’t dealt with in the past.
Garza has scored 20 points or more in five of Iowa’s first six games. In the only game he didn’t, he had 16 points in the 93-80 win over North Carolina on a night when the Tar Heels threw several big bodies at him.
By the end of the game, forward Armando Bacot had fouled out and forwards Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe had four fouls.
“A lot of teams just foul and just beat him up, see how long he can last, see how he can take it,” Iowa guard Connor McCaffery said. “Against Carolina, a lot of people I saw were, ‘Oh, he didn’t have a good game.’ He had (three) 7-footers all have four fouls. People who don’t know basketball don’t understand that.”
“They crowd him,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They beat him up. They front him. They double. They double from various locations. They double on the catch. They 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. So he’ll keep coming.
“But the ability to move him around is what’s critical. Play him in the high post. Play him in the low post. Play him at the top of the key. Play him on the wing. You can pretty much put him anywhere.”
What makes Garza unique is his ability to hit 3-pointers — he is 13-of-19 this season, best on the Hawkeyes.
“So, there’s a variety of things we can run,” Fran McCaffery said. “But the way he’s shooting the three ball, the way he’s shooting the pull-up, his ability to make plays for other people is really critical. If you’re going to be playing against those kinds of defenses, you’ve got to be able to do a variety of things and that’s what he does.”
Garza will be challenged by Gonzaga 6-10 sophomore Drew Timme, who is averaging 23.3 points.
“I think he’s a tremendous player,” Garza said. “I think he’s developing into one of the best players in college basketball. Like I’ve said before, I’m a competitor and like to play against the best.”
“He’s like a guard,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s 6-10, but he handles the ball really well. He moves in the post. He makes moves from the perimeter. He’s really good at creating angles. And he passes the ball to his teammates. So those guys are a handful.”
The Hawkeyes know that anything is possible with how Garza is defended, because they’ve seen it all before.
“There’s a lot of them,” Garza said. “Especially in the Big Ten — the coaches in the Big Ten game-plan so well. I definitely have seen an array of defenses.”
“I think that most of the defenses that teams throw at Luka are predicated around the same thoughts and ideas,” Connor McCaffery said. “Whether it’s doubling on the bounce, doubling on the catch, are they going to double off me, are they going to double off the opposite post, or if they’re not going to double at all and press up on the shooters and let him get 40. I think that all of these things go into opponents’ thoughts.”
Photo: Luka Garza passes out of the arriving double-team during a game against North Carolina earlier this season. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)