By Pete Ruden
After a sloppy first half, Iowa picked up the pace to win its fifth game of the season by beating Southern, 91-60, on Sunday in Carver-Hawkeye.
After losing its fourth-straight game to Iowa State on Dec. 7, it was a much-needed win, no matter who the opponent was. And one of the biggest positives for the Hawkeyes was an improvement in individual performances.
After a stretch of games in which he was ineffective, freshman Luka Garza made a comeback in a big way, dropping a career-high 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds.
Isaiah Moss also had a big day after getting shut down for the most part against Iowa State. The Chicago native hit four 3-pointers to record 12 points.
Garza, though, was the star of the show after nearly recording a double-double in just the first half.
He recently got bumped from the starting lineup and started coming off the bench, but head coach Fran McCaffery is happy with the way he has responded and said it was clearly the freshman’s best game of the season.
“It just feels great to win,” Garza said. “It felt good out there… I just tried to come off the bench and give some energy. We switched the starting lineup up and that doesn’t change my mentality, so I came out there with some energy, tried to give us a boost.”
The Hawkeyes made far fewer mistakes against the Jaguars. They improved a great deal at the free-throw line, hitting 12 of their 15 attempts following a 1-of-8 performance against the Cyclones.
They committed 18 turnovers against the Cyclones in Ames but made that area a more manageable 7 on Sunday.
Winning the turnover battle was a key for Iowa after committing 14 or more turnovers in four-consecutive games.
“We really made that a focal point. You could tell,” McCaffery said. “They still had 11 points in the first half off our turnovers. That’s too many … If you look down, see 7 turns, that’s a number that hasn’t been there in a while.”
With Moss’ game, Iowa took advantage of its shooters on the floor. The Hawkeyes knocked down 13 shots from deep, hitting 41 percent of those shots.
The Iowa defense was stifling all game as well. After forcing Southern to shoot just 30.3 percent from the floor in the first half, the Hawkeyes kept the pressure up; the Jaguars made just 29.7 percent of their shots in the second.
Moss saw the difference the tight defense made, and he believes it was a focal point going into the second half.
“I think we just needed to button up on defense a little more, stay more connected,” he said. “We had a few mental breakdowns in the first half.”
This season has been a year plagued with inconsistencies for the Hawkeyes. After starting off the year 3-0, trouble found Iowa in the Cayman Islands, where it dropped two of three games.
Coming into the game against Southern, the Hawkeyes had lost four in a row, but if the second half was any indication, they have the potential to be a solid, consistent team as the season moves along.
“Our whole team did a good job of keeping consistent and building on the lead, building on the lead,” Garza said. “Consistency has been a struggle for us, so it was good to see that.”