Luka Garza’s Scoring Prowess Ranks Among Best in Hawkeye History
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza had yet to play his first college basketball game when he competed in the Prime Time League in the summer of 2017.
Like all freshmen, he arrived with potential on his resume. But he still had to prove it.
That summer I asked him why he had signed with Iowa, the first school that offered him a scholarship from a list of 27 other Division I suitors.
“They saw what I could be before I did,” Garza said.
Here we are, 91 college games later, and one of the season’s great stories unfolds before our eyes. No one predicted “what I could be” would be this.
Garza enters Thursday’s game against Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with talk of Big Ten and national player of the year honors attached to his name.
“I’ve never seen a guy improve that much, from one year to the next,” said Glenn Vidnovic, a three-year starter for the Hawkeyes and a key piece of Coach Ralph Miller’s undefeated Big Ten champions of 1969-70.
Garza, a 6-foot-10 junior from Washington, D.C., is averaging 23.7 points overall and 26.7 in Big Ten play heading into Thursday’s game.
He’s scored 617 points this season, the most for a junior in program history, while averaging 9.7 rebounds overall and 9.4 in Big Ten games.
Last season, Garza averaged 13.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in all games and 12.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in Big Ten play. He scored 419 points in 333 games.
Garza’s hands and strength impress Vidnovic the most.
“They talk about all these assists everyone gives him, “ said Vidnovic, who rarely misses a home game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “They bounce it into him and he goes into three guys who hack and hold him and he still makes it. And his footwork is unbelievable.”
Garza has scored 20 points or more in 11 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in program history. Guard Fred Brown did it in 16 consecutive games in 1970-71. And center Chuck Darling, Iowa’s last consensus all-American, did it in 13 consecutive games in 1951-52.
Garza has scored at least 20 points in 20 games this season. Only Brown, with 21 in that 1970-71 season, has more.
Vidnovic, who averaged 13.9 points as a sophomore, 15.7 as a junior and 17.3 as a senior, knows a big-time scorer when he sees one. He was a teammate with three of Iowa’s greatest scorers of all time – Sam Williams, John Johnson and Brown.
“I was happy about it, because no one ever covered me,” Vidnovic said. “They were good guys. Some of the best.”
Williams, Johnson and Brown are three of 12 players to average at least 20 points a season for the Hawkeyes. Williams, nicknamed “Super Sam,” did it twice. Don Nelson also did it twice in the early 1960s.
Vidnovic played with Williams, a 6-3 guard-forward from Detroit by way of Burlington Junior College, in ’67-68.
Sam averaged 25.6 points in Big Ten play and 25.3 overall that year for a team that tied for the Big Ten title and would have won it outright had they not lost at home to underdog Michigan, 71-70, in the final regular-season game.
The Hawkeyes then lost to Ohio State, 85-81, in a playoff for the Big Ten’s NCAA berth at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. The Buckeyes reached the Final Four.
“People forget how good Sam was,” Vidnovic said. “He could score from everywhere. He was Iowa’s last MVP in the Big Ten, though (Andre) Woolridge got screwed (when he led the Big Ten in scoring and assists in ’96-97) and John (Johnson) got screwed when they gave it to (Rick) Mount (in ’69-70).”
Vidnovic started alongside another junior college transfer in 1968-69. His name was John Johnson, a 6-7 forward who averaged 19.7 points in his first season of Division I basketball.
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Brown, a 6-3 guard and another Burlington Junior College transfer, joined the team for that memorable ’69-70 season.
Johnson averaged 31.8 points in Big Ten play and 27.9 overall in 1969-70, and had 12 games with 30 or more points including a school-record 49 against Northwestern.
“Johnny was pretty much unstoppable,” Vidnovic said.
That team averaged a record 102.9 points in Big Ten play and finished 20-5 after a crushing 104-103 loss to Jacksonville in the first round of the NCCA Tournament.
Brown averaged 17.9 points on that team, but that made him only the third-leading scorer behind Johnson and Chad Calabria (19.1).
Brown was the lone returning starter in ’70-71, when Iowa went just 9-15 overall and 4-10 in the Big Ten. Brown averaged 28.8 points in Big Ten play and 27.6 overall.
“Fred could really shoot it,” Vidnovic said. “But he could get to the basket, too.”
Garza is poised to join the 20-point club. His 26.7-point Big Ten average with five regular-season games remaining is the highest in the league since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson averaged 31.1 in ’93-94.
Garza’s transformation from a good to a great college player came at a perfect time for an Iowa team that has exceeded expectations this season despite a depleted roster.
“Just think if he wasn’t Luka Garza,” Vidnovic said. “We’d be four and whatever. I go back to John Johnson. You could count on him for 30 points. That stuff’s not easy, let me tell you. You better be good because you’re at the top of the scouting report.”
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A statistical look inside Iowa’s 20-point club
Murray Wier, 5-8 guard, Muscatine
He led the nation in scoring in ’47-48 as a senior, averaging 21.0 points overall and 22.7 in 12 Big Ten games. Scored in double figures 17 times, often playing forward. Team was 15-4 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten (second). Had 12 games of 20 points or more, and two of 30-plus including a career-high 34 against Illinois before a crowd of 16,048 in Iowa Fieldhouse. All-American scored in double figures in 11 of 12 Big Ten games, with nine games of 20-plus points. Had six consecutive games of 20 points or more.
Chuck Darling, 6-8 center, Denver, Colo.
Averaged 26.0 points in Big Ten play and 25.5 overall for a team that was 19-3 overall and 11-3 in the Big Ten (second) in ’51-52. Scored in double figures in all 22 games, with 19 games of at least 20 points and six of at least 30. Had 34-point games against Minnesota and Wisconsin. Scored at least 20 points in 13 of 14 Big Ten games. Consensus all-American. Had 13 consecutive games of 20 points or more. Set a school single-season record with 561 points.
Dave Gunther, 6-5 forward, LeMars
Averaged 20.0 points in the Big Ten and 21.9 overall in ’58-59 for a team that was 10-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten (tie fifth). Thirteen games of 20-plus points, including five of 30-plus. Seven games of 20-plus in Big Ten play including season-high 37 against Wisconsin. Had six consecutive games of 20 points or more.
Don Nelson, 6-6 forward-center, Rock Island, Ill.
Averaged 22.9 points in the Big Ten and 23.7 overall for a ’60-61 team that was 18-6 overall and 10-4 in Big Ten play (tie second). Scored at least 20 points in 19 games, including eight of 30-plus. Scored 34 points against Arizona and Michigan State. Had 11 20-point-plus games in Big Ten play. Had nine consecutive games of 20 points or more. Set school single-season record with 570 points.
Averaged 26.9 points in Big Ten play and 23.8 overall for a ’61-62 team that was 13-11 overall and 7-7 in league play (tie fourth). Scored at least 20 points in 12 of those 14 league games. Had 16 games of 20-plus points, with five games of 30-plus including 39 that set a Wisconsin Fieldhouse record. Broke his own single-season scoring mark with 571 points. Had five consecutive games of 20-plus points.
Chris Pervall, 6-3 guard, Newark, N.J.
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Averaged 21.1 points overall and 21.5 in Big Ten play for a team that was 14-10 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten (fifth) in ’64-65. Scored in double figures in all but one game, with 14 games of 20-plus points. Nine of those came in Big Ten play. Scored 38 in second-to-last game against Illinois. Had six consecutive games of 20-plus points. Came from same high school, Weequahic, that produced Iowa football players Akrum Wadley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Sam Williams, 6-3 forward, Detroit, Mich.
Averaged 22.6 points overall and 25.2 in Big Ten play in ’66-67. Team was 16-8 overall and 9-5 in the Big Ten (third). Had nine consecutive games of 20-plus points, and 18 overall. Also had two games of 30-plus points, including season-high 39 at Northwestern. Scored at least 20 points in 12 Big Ten games.
Averaged 35.3 points overall and 25.6 against Big Ten foes in ’67-68 as Iowa went 16-9 overall and tied for the Big Ten title at 10-4. Scored at least 20 points in eight straight games twice. Finished season with 18 games of 20-plus points including eight games of at least 30. That included season-high 37 points at Stanford.
John Johnson, 6-7 forward, Milwaukee, Wis.
Led ’69-70 Hawkeyes to 14-0 Big Ten record and 20-5 mark overall by averaging 27.9 points overall and 31.8 in league games. Twelve games of 30-plus points, including school-record 49 against Northwestern, and nine against Big Ten foes. Had a total of 18 games of 20-plus points. Scored at least 20 points in 13 of 14 conference games.
Fred Brown, 6-3 guard, Milwaukee, Wis.
Scored at least 20 points in a school-record 21 games in ’70-71 while averaging 27.6 points overall and 28.8 in Big Ten play. Hawkeyes were 9-15 overall and 4-10 in the Big Ten (tie seventh). Scored at least 20 points in all but one league game. Had 10 games of at least 30 points, including season-high 37 against Purdue. Scored at least 20 points in 16 consecutive games, the longest streak in school history.
Bruce “Sky” King, 6-8 forward-center, Dayton, Ohio
Averaged 21.0 points overall and 20.8 in the Big Ten in ’76-77, when Iowa was 20-7 overall and 12-6 in the league (fourth). Scored in double figures in all but one game, with 14 games of at least 20 points including 42 against Pittsburgh. Scored at least 20 points in seven Big Ten games.
Roy Marble, 6-6 guard-forward, Flint, Mich.
Scored in double figures in 17 of 18 Big Ten games in ’88-89 as Iowa was 23-10 overall and 12-6 in league play (fourth). Averaged 20.5 points overall, 20.9 in the Big Ten. Scored at least 20 points in 18 games, eight of them against Big Ten foes. Had season-high 37 points at Illinois. Iowa’s career scoring leader (2,116).
Andre Woolridge, 6-0 guard, Omaha, Neb.
Led Big Ten in both scoring (20.9) and assists in the same season (’96-97). Averaged 20.2 points overall for a team that finished 22-10 and 12-6 in Big Ten play (tie, second). Scored in double figures in all 18 Big Ten games, scoring at least 20 points in 11 of them. Had 16 games of 20-plus points that season, including 34 at Northwestern.
Adam Haluska, 6-5 guard, Carroll, Ia.
Averaged 20.5 points overall and 21.3 in the Big Ten in ’06-07, when the Hawkeyes were 17-14 overall and 9-7 in league play (tie, fourth). Had 17 games of 20-plus points, nine of them in Big Ten play. Scored a season-high 36 against Georgia State.
Luka Garza, 6-10 center, Washington, D.C.
Averaging 23.7 points overall and 26.7 in Big Ten play. Has scored at least 20 points in the last 11 games, 13 of the last 14 and 20 times overall. Five games of 30-plus points including 44 at Michigan.