IOWA CITY, Iowa - Luka Garza’s points-a-plenty Iowa basketball career grows with each game. The Hawkeyes’ all-American senior center needs to average just 12.8 points over the remaining Big Ten season to pass Roy Marble (2,116 points) as the program’s career scoring leader. Garza’s scored at least 20 points in 25 of 28 regular-season conference games over the last two seasons. He’s scored at least 20 points in 14 of Iowa’s last 16 games against teams ranked in the Top 25 of the Associated Press poll.
Numbers like that make his resume long and impressive. But here’s something you might not know. Garza is well on his way to becoming just the third player in school history to average better than 20 points in back-to-back seasons, joining Don Nelson and Sam Williams. Nelson averaged 23.7 points as a junior in 1960-61. A model of consistency, he averaged 23.8 points as a senior in 1961-62. Nelson scored 570 points in 24 games as a junior, and 571 points in 24 games as a senior.
Williams, who earned the nickname Super Sam after averaging 22.6 points in 1966-67 and increasing that to 25.5 points the following season.
Williams’ 24.0 two-year scoring average is better than any player in school history. Johnson averaged 23.9. Garza is in position to pass both of them. He’s averaged 24.9 over the past two seasons.
Garza takes a 26.9-point average into Friday’s Top 25 duel at Illinois, after scoring at a 23.9 clip as a junior. He’s well on his way to becoming just the fifth Iowa player to average more than 25 points in a season.
Three players on that list did it over a memorable four-season span. It started with Williams in 1967-68. John Johnson, a key piece on Iowa’s undefeated Big Ten championship team in 1969-70, averaged a record 27.9 points a game that season. Fred Brown averaged 27.6 points a game in 1970-71. The other player on that list is Chuck Darling, who averaged 25.5 points in 1951-52.
All five players earned first-team all-Big Ten honors. Williams did it twice, and is one of three players on the list to be named the conference player of the year. Garza and Darling are the others.
Darling, a 6-8 center, had a deadly hook shot. Johnson had an unstoppable line-drive jump shot from the corner. Brown had a flair for long-range jumpers. Williams was a crafty scorer who couldn’t be stopped around the basket. And Garza has made a name for himself both in the paint and behind the 3-point arc.
Comparing numbers is an inexact science, and often doesn’t reflect a changing game. Garza is the only player on that list to play in the era of the 3-point shot. Four of the five players on the list played just 14 Big Ten games. Garza faces league competition 20 times a season. But you can still appreciate what these five players have accomplished on the offensive end of the floor. Here’s a look at how they did it.
CHUCK DARLING, 1951-52 (25.5 ppg)
When Bucky O’Connor replaced Rollie Williams as Iowa’s coach before the 1951-52 season, he inherited a well-traveled center. Darling was born in Denison, played high school basketball in Montana and Colorado and then returned to Iowa, where he played for three different coaches as a Hawkeye.
O’Connor actually coached Darling on the freshman team in 1948-49, and also on the varsity the following season on and interim basis when Coach Pops Harrison was sidelined with gall bladder surgery.
Darling nearly led the Hawkeyes (19-3) to a share of the 1952 Big Ten title. But Iowa was upset by a two-win Wisconsin team, 78-75, in the season finale before 11,000 disappointed fans that braved a blizzard to make it to Iowa Fieldhouse.
Those brave souls watched Darling say goodbye to the tune of 34 points and 30 rebounds, still a single-game school record.
That was one of six 30-plus scoring games for Darling, who would go on to play for a United States Olympic team that would win the goal medal at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Darling scored at least 20 points in 19 of 22 games. He shot just 41.7 percent from the floor, but took 209 more shots than anyone else on his team. And he was a one-man wrecking crew when it came to the record books.
His 364 points were a single-season Big Ten record at the time, as were his 132 made field goals and 100 made free throws. He also set a single-game record by making 16 free throws against Minnesota. And he set a Big Ten record for most points over three seasons (freshmen weren’t eligible then) with 628.
He also left as the first 1,000-point scorer in Iowa history (1,094). His 561 points, 204 made field goals and 153 made free throws were also school single-season marks at the time.
SAM WILLIAMS, 1967-68 (25.3 ppg)
An undersized forward with a nose for the ball, Williams led the Hawkeyes to a share of their first Big Ten title since 1956 as a senior.
The 6-3 Williams had many big-game moments during a 16-9 season. He scored 256 points in an upset of No. 4 Tennessee. He scored 33 points as Iowa snapped Michigan State’s 25-game home-floor winning streak. He also became the Hawkeyes’ single-season scoring leader with a 34-point game at Minnesota.
Only a 71-70 loss to Michigan, a 15-point underdog, in the regular-season finale in Iowa Fieldhouse denied Williams (30 points) and his teammates the outright Big Ten crown. That forced the first playoff in 60 years to determine the Big Ten’s representative in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa lost to Ohio State in West Lafayette, Ind., 85-81. Williams scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half of his final game as a Hawkeye.
Williams had eight games of 30 points or more, and 18 with at least 20 points, and made at least 10 field goals in 11 games. He failed to reach the 20-point mark just three times in Big Ten play, scoring 18 twice and 19 in the other.
He averaged a double-double for the season, with 10.9 rebounds to go with his gift for scoring.
JOHN JOHNSON, 1969-70 (27.9 ppg)
Iowa averaged 102.9 points a game in Big Ten play in 1969-70, breaking the century mark nine times. Johnson, who had averaged 19.7 points in 1968-69 after transferring in from junior college, was the catalyst.
A 6-7 forward, Johnson averaged a program-record 31.1 points in Big Ten play. Illinois was the only team to hold him under 20 points in conference play (17). He reached the 30-point mark nine times in Big Ten play and 12 times overall. He also scored a program-record 49 points against Northwestern.
Coach Ralph Miller took Johnson out of the blowout with more than 6 minutes to play. He’d scored 47 at the time. The crowd chanted “We want Johnson,” and Miller put him back in. Northwestern countered with a box-and-one defense and he added two more free throws before fouling out with 1:48 to play.
Johnson also scored 46 points against Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a junior to become the first player in school history with a pair of 40-plus games
Johnson averaged 11.6 field goals a game, more than any other player on the 25-point list. He finished the season with a school-record 289 field goals and made at least 10 baskets in 19 games, 12 of them against Big Ten competition. He shot 56.9 percent from the field and 75.2 percent from the line that season, to go with 10.7 rebounds. His 699 points (in 25 games) was a school record until Garza scored 740 points (in 31 games) last season.
FRED BROWN, 1970-71 (27.6 ppg)
Before he earned the nickname “Downtown” Freddy Brown with the Seattle Supersonics, where he and Johnson teamed up once again on the 1979 NBA World Championship team, the guard got up his share of shots at Iowa.
He averaged 17.9 points in 1969-70, playing in Johnson’s shadow. But he had the stage to himself the following season. And though the Hawkeyes struggled to a 4-10 record in Big Ten play, Brown was a dynamic scorer that season.
He took 535 shots that season, 315 more than anyone else. He made at least 10 field goals in 13 of 14 Big Ten games, and was held under 20 points in just three of 24 games all season. He also reached the 30-point mark on 10 occasions, and averaged 11.2 field goals a game. Even though he was a high-volume shooter, Brown’s accuracy was unmistakable. He shot 50.1 percent from the field. And when he put the ball on the floor and got fouled, Fred shot 82.9 percent from the line.
LUKA GARZA, 2020-21 (26.9 ppg)
Garza’s fast start this season has come with fewer shot attempts. He’s averaging 16.4 shots a game this season (down from 17.1 last season), the fewest of Iowa’s 25-point scorers. Williams took an average of 19 shots, Johnson was at 20.3, Brown 21.2 and Darling 22.2. Garza’s offensive success is impressive when you consider the fact that he does it in the face of constant double-team and occasional triple-team attention.
He’s shooting 61.0 percent from the field this season, up from his 54.2 percent accuracy of a year ago. He’s also improved his touch at the free-throw line, from 65.1 percent a season ago to 75.5 percent this season.
He joined Johnson as the only players to score at least 40 points on two occasions - 44 at Michigan last season and 41 against Southern in the second game this season. Garza’s made at least 10 field goals in 10 of 15 games this season, after doing it in 12 of 31 games a season ago.
Thought his entire body of work is still to be determined, Luka’s unmatched work ethic and sound fundamental approach will long be remembered.