Leistikow: The most mind-boggling statistics of Luka Garza's historic Iowa basketball career
As Luka Garza collects major national awards, seemingly one or more each day, it’s a reminder of two things.
One, these are indeed the final moments of his days as an Iowa Hawkeye. Each trophy acceptance speech brings Garza one step closer to his professional career.
Two, his final numbers and accomplishments are worth appreciating.
On Friday, Garza was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches player of the year. That came on the heels of Thursday’s pronouncements of his winning the Associated Press national player of the year and Oscar Robertson Trophy (presented by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).
On Saturday, Garza was named the winner of the prestigious Naismith Trophy. Now he is one award away — the Wooden Award, presented on Tuesday — from being consensus national player of the year. Only two other Big Ten Conference players in the last 27 years (Ohio State’s Evan Turner in 2010, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in 2015) have done that.
“This whole experience my last year with the team that we had, it’s been a surreal feeling,” Garza said Thursday. “To see these things that have happened to me, it’s just an incredible feeling. It’s because of all the people along the way that have pushed me.
“I’m forever indebted to the University of Iowa and the people that I’ve met along the way that have put me in a position to be successful.”
With that historical backdrop, let’s take a look at some of the more mind-boggling numbers of Garza’s Iowa career.
11.75: The weight (in pounds) of the cyst that was removed from his abdomen.
While it was initially reported that the cyst in Garza’s abdomen, surgically removed in September of 2018 (before his sophomore season), was nine pounds, the actual weight in total (per his father, Frank) was 11.75 pounds — counting the membrane wall and 1½ gallons of fluid that had to be drained.
That became an early indication of Garza’s resiliency throughout his Hawkeye career. Though Garza averaged a pedestrian (for him) 12.8 points a game as a sophomore, he registered eight games of 20-plus — including in Iowa’s first-round NCAA Tournament win against Cincinnati — to set the stage for his two incredible years to come.
1,487: Points scored in his junior and senior seasons.
Garza owns the two highest-scoring seasons in Iowa men's basketball history, in terms of total points — 740 as a junior, 747 as a senior. Keep in mind both seasons were also cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no postseason as a junior, and Iowa’s regular season as a senior was trimmed by four games (from 31 to 27).
With a full complement of games and at his scoring clip over the final two years (24.0 per game), Garza probably would’ve added another 150 to 200 points to his ledger.
The 1,487 points scored his final two years alone would rank No. 19 in Iowa history (one spot behind Jeff Horner’s four-year total of 1,502).
13: Games with 30-plus points (and two with 40-plus).
All 13 games came during the final two years and ties John Johnson (the only Hawkeye to score more points in a game than Garza) for the school mark.
For perspective, here are the 30-point game totals for some other prominent Hawkeyes of the past 50 years: Acie Earl 5, Adam Haluska 5, Peter Jok 5, Ronnie Lester 3, Roy Marble 3, Greg Stokes 2, Matt Gatens 2, Jarrod Uthoff 1.
Among Garza’s 30-point games: a career-high 44 at Michigan as a junior; 38 that same season at Indiana’s Assembly Hall; 34 this season in just 16½ minutes against Iowa State (13-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-7 from 3); 30 in a big-time road win at Wisconsin on Feb. 18; and 36 in his Hawkeye finale, a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon.
17: Stitches endured from in-game cuts to the face. (Plus, one lost tooth.)
And, perhaps most notably after reading that, zero games missed during his final two seasons.
Garza was a picture of durability and fast healing, something he partly attributes to meditation exercises that he also shared with teammates (including fellow all-Big Ten star Joe Wieskamp). While Iowa’s injury report was overflowing and kept head athletic trainer Brad Floy remarkably busy, Garza plowed through any ailments that came his way and kept playing, usually at a clip of 30-plus minutes a night.
As for the face gashes, he was known in his Iowa career for playing with cotton in his nostrils after wayward elbows that are the norm for a 6-foot-11, 265-pound center that attracts double- and triple-teams.
His two most famous incidents of toughness occurred as a junior. In a 72-61 win against Texas Tech, his lip was badly bloodied and required stitches — but he refused pain medication so that he could return to the game.
And in an 84-68 win at Iowa State, he had a tooth jarred loose — but returned to play after a brief exit for repairs.
931: Rebounds collected, second-most in Iowa history.
While Garza’s career is marked by prolific scoring, his rebounding positioning and numbers improved throughout his career. It’s not like Garza was playing against stiffs, either. He was banging inside with the likes of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and the usual maulers at Michigan State and Purdue throughout his career.
Garza’s rebounds by year: 211, 144, 305 and 271. Only Greg Brunner (with 990) has more boards in Iowa history. Garza surpassed program legends Kevin Kunnert (914) and Aaron White (901) in March.
39.7: Shooting percentage from 3-point range over his final two years.
That is something Garza is especially proud of, considering he shot 31.4% from 3 during his first two seasons. And don’t forget, the college game moved the 3-point line back to international distance (22 feet, 1 ¾ inches) from its previous 20-9 entering in the 2019-20 season.
Garza worked rigorously on his shooting range, and it showed. He canned 39 of 109 from 3 as a junior (35.8%), then 44 of 100 as a senior. According to KenPom.com, that 44% accuracy ranked 69th nationally among all players from 347 Division I teams. That is an elite number for a sharpshooting guard, let alone a back-to-the-basket center.
Garza's 120 career 3-pointers rank 16th in Iowa history. That’s not far behind the clip of a guard named B.J. Armstrong (136), the No. 6 all-time scorer in Iowa history. Pretty incredible to think about.
870: Total baskets made.
Since 1993, only Ethan Happ of Wisconsin (with 880 field goals) has put the ball in the bucket more among Big Ten Conference players.
Yet Garza scored 176 more points than Happ (2,306 vs. 2,130) in 12 fewer games because of his proficiency from 3-point range (120 makes vs. 1) and the free-throw line (446 makes vs. 369).
In Iowa history, Garza’s field-goal total easily outdistances those next-closest to him: Marble (787), Stokes (705), Earl (642) and Lester (622).
7: Rank in Big Ten history in scoring.
Garza’s 2,306 career points are situated behind Purdue’s Rick Mount (No. 6, 2,323) and Michigan State’s Steve Smith (No. 8, 2,263) on the conference’s all-time list. His four-year total is the most by anyone in the league since Michigan State’s Shawn Respert scored the last of his 2,531 points in 1995.
There are all kinds of crazy stats that demonstrate his place in Big Ten and national history. For example, only three other players since 1993 (Texas' Kevin Durant, Duke's Shane Battier and Connecticut's Donyell Marshall) have posted at least 740 points, 250 rebounds, 50 blocked shots and 40 3-pointers in the same season.
But this one pretty much sums it up: No other Big Ten men's player has scored at least 2,250 points and 900 rebounds in a career.
6: Iowa’s average AP ranking during his final season.
Garza did say that he would be “haunted forever” by the Oregon loss, knowing that failing to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament (let alone a Final Four) will be an empty spot on his career resume. Iowa has not gotten to a Sweet 16 since 1999.
Yet it would be disingenuous to say that Garza amassed robust numbers (his 24.1 points per game ranked second in Division I) without accompanying team success. The Hawkeyes finished in third place in the Big Ten gauntlet, only behind No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds Michigan and Illinois. They ranked in the top 10 of 15 of the 17 AP polls this season, with 10 weeks including a top-five ranking. The average poll finish of No. 6 is the program’s highest since the 1986-87 season (No. 4).
And speaking of No. 4, Garza accomplished a lot in four years. In addition to earning a degree in economics, he took Iowa from a 14-19 freshman season to the national top 10 as a senior.
Upon Friday's announcement of Garza winning the 2021 Senior CLASS award for men's basketball (presented to the nation's top student-athlete), Iowa coach Fran McCaffery delivered a good summation quote for this numerical perspective.
“Luka embodies all that a student-athlete at the University of Iowa represents. His leadership, his work ethic, his determination, his example for the young players, his consistency of effort and performance — we may never see another one like him," McCaffery said. "I believe that is the legacy that he will leave, and that is why everybody in Hawkeye Nation appreciates what he has done for our program and university the last four years."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.