By John Bohnenkamp
Luka Garza didn’t score in the second half of Iowa’s 96-73 win at Northwestern on Sunday.
Of course, the consensus All-American center and candidate for this season’s national player of the year only played 6:01 of the half.
In all seriousness, the Hawkeyes didn’t need Garza in the second half. They had closed the first half with a 21-9 run, started the second half with a 13-2 run. And with what looks to be an ever-increasing jam to the Big Ten schedule coming up because of COVID-19 postponements — Iowa has last Thursday’s game with Michigan State and this Sunday’s game with Nebraska to be rescheduled — it was good to get Garza and the rest of the starters some rest.
Garza finished with 17 points, and he still leads the nation in scoring at 26.9 points per game. But he has more offensive help than ever, even if it doesn’t seem that way because so many familiar names have returned.
He didn’t have Jordan Bohannon for almost all of last season. Bohannon, who says this is the best he has felt in his college career after coming off two hip surgeries, is averaging 17 points over Iowa’s current five-game winning streak, shooting 22-of-35 in 3-pointers (62.8 percent).
Guard C.J. Fredrick, who missed six games and the second halves of two games last season with various injuries, had 13 points in Sunday’s game — he averaged 16 points on 10-of-17 shooting in the two games against Northwestern this season.
Jack Nunge, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, has 12 points on Sunday. He has averaged 17 minutes over the last four games.
Garza, Bohannon, Fredrick, Nunge were part of five Hawkeyes in double figures in scoring on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes have become an offensive machine because they have healthier parts this season.
“It’s dangerous,” Fredrick said after the game.
It’s not just Garza who is benefiting. More scoring options means Joe Wieskamp, who was healthy all of last season, doesn’t have to be the main outside shooting focus of opposing defenses.
Wieskamp has 36 points in the last two games, averaging 12 points in the winning streak. He was 6-of-10 from the field on Sunday, 2-of-3 in 3-pointers. The physical defense he faced last season is still there, but not only is he handling it better, he has more directions in which he can get rid of the ball if necessary.
It’s a defensive conundrum for opponents. If teams want to continue double-teaming Garza, the increased number of scoring options is going to make that difficult.
“You’re just giving three guys with really high basketball IQs reads,” Fredrick said.
“I know I’m a good shooter, I know we have a lot of good shooters on this team,” Wieskamp said. “When we get going, when we’re shooting it well from three, we’re going to be really tough. Teams have got to respect Luka, obviously, in the post. I think it kind of shows if they’re going to double-team him, we’re going to hit those shots. It kind of depends on what teams are giving us.”
It has shown in the overall shooting numbers. Iowa has made 39.5 percent of its 3-pointers this season, up from 34.7 percent last season. The Hawkeyes are shooting 49.4 percent from the field, up from 45 percent.
Garza’s shooting numbers are up — he’s made 62.5 percent of his shots (54.1 percent in 2019-20) and 47.9 percent of his 3-pointers (35.8 last season).
Bohannon is shooting a career-best 42.6 percent from the field. Wieskamp is doing the same at 48.3 percent. Fredrick’s numbers — 49.5 percent overall and 51 percent in 3-pointers — are up from his first season last year.
The efficiency is still there — Iowa had 22 assists on 33 field goals on Sunday, 15-of-19 in the first half. It helps that the passing lanes have opened as the Hawkeyes continue to extend opposing defenses.
There’s a give-and-take, Wieskamp said, in the Hawkeyes’ passing attack that goes in and out.
“We’re finding (Garza), and now teams are doubling him so he’s finding open guys,” Wieskamp said. “We’re just moving the ball well. We’ve said it all season long — we have a lot of unselfish guys. People are willing to make that extra pass.”
It’s a lot easier these days to find the scoring options in Iowa’s offense, because there are so many.
Photo: Iowa’s Luka Garza watches his shot go in during Sunday’s game at Northwestern. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)