Luka Garza seeks elusive win at Maryland
Iowa's All-America senior center has one last chance to win near where he grew up
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza is in position to become Iowa’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball.
He was named the National Player of the Year by six news outlets last season, is considered the favorite to win consensus National Player of the Year this season, and is the heavy favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year for the second year in a row.
He currently leads the nation in scoring with a 27.5 per-game average, and he led the Big Ten in scoring last season with a 23.9 average.
He also ranks seventh nationally this season with five double-doubles in scoring and rebounding, and his team is ranked fifth nationally and in the thick of the Big Ten race with records of 9-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play.
Garza’s list of accomplishments and milestones is long and growing, but there are some missing pieces, like a victory at Maryland, for example.
Iowa has yet to do that with Garza on the team, and the last chance for him to win at Maryland will come on Thursday at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md.
Garza grew up about 10 minutes from the Xfinity Center in Washington D.C., so this game is personal for him, but Thursday’s matchup is also huge from a team standpoint because Big Ten road wins are hard to come by.
Iowa only finished 2-7 in Big Ten road games last season, including an 82-72 loss at Maryland on Jan. 30, 2020.
“I haven’t been able to win at Maryland,” Garza said Tuesday. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s as important as any game on our schedule.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery would say that Thursday’s game at Maryland is the most important game on Iowa’s schedule simply because it’s the next game.
McCaffery doesn’t look ahead or ever say that one game means more than another.
All that matters to McCaffery is what’s next on the schedule, and that is a key clash at Maryland.
The Terrapins are struggling after having won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last season. Maryland is 1-3 in conference play and 6-5 overall.
However, the one victory came against Big Ten contender Wisconsin by a score of 70-64 on Dec. 29th at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
“They really competed in that game,” Fran McCaffery said. “They played really hard. They were really together, I thought.”
That’s what it takes to win on the road in the Big Ten, effort, toughness and execution.
Garza and his cohorts are coming off a 77-75 win at Rutgers this past Saturday in which they competed and executed at a high level.
The same level of performance will be needed to win Thursday’s game.
Under normal circumstances, Garza would have numerous family and friends at Thursday’s game, but things haven’t been normal for 10 months due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“I’m always excited to play near home and close to family,” Garza said. “But this year, there isn’t family at the game. But still means the same things, just to know that my mother, and my dad, are all in the same place kind of. It’s definitely a reassuring feeling.”
Maryland’s struggles can be traced partly to personnel losses from last season, namely All-Big Ten point Anthony Cowan, who used up his eligibility last season, and All-Big Ten forward Jalen Smith, who declared for the 2020 NBA Draft as a sophomore.
“They have I think a very good team,” Fran McCaffery said. “They’re different than last year, obviously, you lose Smith and Cowan. But they’ve got some other guys.”
Three Terrapins average double figures in scoring led by Eric Ayala at 14.3 points per game, followed by Donta Scott (12.9), and Aaron Wiggins (11.5). Scott also leads Maryland in rebounding (7.3) and 3-pointers made (19)
and percentage (.576, 19-of-33).
“I think Scott has really taken his game to another level,” Fran McCaffery said. “I’ve always been a big fan of Ayala. I think he’s terrific.”
Maryland is expected to be without senior starting guard Darryl Morsell, who suffered a fractured bone in his face that he suffered from an inadvertent elbow from Michigan’s Franz Wagner. Morsell is one of Maryland’s top defenders and most experienced players.
No. 5 Iowa, on the other hand, should be a full strength in Thursday’s game.
Junior guard Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, is expected to play after having twisted his ankle early in the first half against Rutgers.
Connor McCaffery is considered Iowa’s best passer, and he excels at feeding Garza in the post.
Iowa vs. Maryland
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Thursday will be the 12th all-time meeting between Iowa and Maryland. The Terrapins own a 7-4 advantage in the series. Each team won on its home floor in last season’s two meetings. Maryland owns a 3-1 advantage against Iowa in games played at the Xfinity Center. The Terrapins recorded wins over Iowa in 2016 (74-68) and 2018 (91-73), while the Hawkeyes beat Maryland in 2017 (83-69).