IOWA CITY, Iowa - Luka Garza stood on the Williams Arena court devastated. He and his Iowa teammates had squandered a seven-point lead with 44 seconds remaining in an overtime setback at Minnesota Christmas Night.
The Hawkeye star center had done his part. He scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He didn't care about those numbers. The scoreboard haunted him.
Luka Garza hates to lose. Hates it. It eats at him.
Last weekend in a rare blowout victory at Michigan State, he celebrated in the locker room as much as any of his teammates. The Spartans dedicated extra defenders to slowing him down, holding him to a season-low eight points and eight boards. He didn't care about those numbers either. The scoreboard delighted him.
He drew eight fouls from Michigan State defenders. He handed out three assists. He contributed to success. That's what mattered.
Luka Garza loves to win. Loves it. It drives him.
That made Sunday's achievement of passing Roy Marble as Iowa's all-time leading scorer in a 74-68 triumph against Penn State even more special. He deserved it and earned it. It was justice it happened this way.
The accomplishment arrived as a result of hard work and dedication by Garza and those around him. The motivation came from desiring to be the best he could be. But it wasn't for personal recognition. It was for teaming up with fellow overachievers for victories.
Celebrating together beats celebrating alone.
Garza's monstrous statistics overshadow his tremendous leadership, both vocal and by example. He pushes himself year-round as much or more than any of his peers. It sharpens his skills but also pulls forward people around him. If the best player is giving his all every day, everyone else can surely do the same. And if you're committed to the team like the star, you will.
A throwback, Garza isn't blessed with great speed, athleticism and jumping ability. But he maximizes his natural gifts. That's relatable. It's inspiring for teammates and fans alike. Most of us have to work hard in reaching our goals.
The dedication to be great stretches back to at least when Iowa began recruiting him. Coach Fran McCaffery was the first to offer a scholarship. It arrived in his sophomore year. It came with a to-do list.
McCaffery urged Garza to work on his conditioning and expand his game. Plenty of prospects would have balked at the suggestions, been insulted and looked elsewhere for a college. Garza embraced them and has remained determined ever since.
He powered through having a nine-pound cyst removed from his abdomen late in the summer of 2018 and was ready for the season a few months later. His team needed him.
Garza started social media accounts on the major platforms years ago. He's never used them for promoting his personal brand or accomplishments even though it could benefit him. He has celebrated team achievement and spoken out against social injustice, looking beyond himself.
"He treats everyone how he likes to be treated. He respects everyone. He treats his teammates and he really cares about everyone around him. What he has going for him with character is going to go leaps and bounds for him beyond his basketball career," said Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon, who delivered the assist on the record-breaking basket.
His 23 points Sunday increased his career total to 2,126, 10 more than Marble. He has four regular-season games and the postseason to build on it.
Asked to talk about the record, he thanked and credited his teammates and coaches. It did that throughout the whole interview Sunday.
"I don't think he would have wanted to talk about if we had lost the game," McCaffery said.
Garza called the record a bonus to the victory.
"It wouldn't have felt the same without the win," he said.
Future generations of Hawkeye fans will learn about him and measure his greatness by gaudy statistics. Hopefully folks watching him reach these heights now fill them in on what it took to get here. It's a critical part of his story.
It's helped position Iowa well for its first to the Sweet 16 or better in 22 years. Garza was four months old at the time.
He's well versed in Hawkeye history. You can bet what happened here Sunday won't mean as much to him down the road unless Iowa ends its March drought. That's the legacy he cares most about.