Howard: Michigan can't stop Garza, hopes to slow him down

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When he looked at the tape of Iowa’s recent games, a couple things stood out to coach Juwan Howard.

There’s an offense that’s averaging 1.151 points per possession, an efficiency mark that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten.

There’s the discipline and patience the Hawkeyes play with on every offensive possession, whether it’s attacking the first option or wearing opponents down to get to the next option.

But the main takeaway?

Iowa's Luka Garza drives on Michigan's Colin Castleton during the first meeting between the teams in December.

“Garza, Garza, Garza,” Howard said Thursday, referring to Iowa big man Luka Garza, “because he's touching the ball no matter what every time down the floor.”

Heading into Friday night’s Big Ten rematch at Iowa, there’s no doubt Garza is at the center of No. 19 Michigan’s scouting report after he lit up the Wolverines and set a Crisler Center single-game record for scoring by an opponent with a career-high 44 points.

Howard admitted game-planning for Garza a second time around isn’t any easier, especially considering the tear he has been on. Since the teams squared off in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 6 — a 103-91 Michigan win — Garza has posted six double-doubles and has scored at least 21 points six times over Iowa’s past eight games.

Entering play Thursday, Garza ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring (22.3 points) and second in rebounding (10.4). He also leads the nation with seven 20-point, 10-rebound outings and is one of only five players nationally who is averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“He's so skilled and so smart,” Howard said. “He's very patient before he gets the ball setting up his post position. His teammates are very patient in finding him no matter if the ball moves over to the other side of the floor. Before the shot clock is over with, it's always going to find a way to find his hands. He's the perfect example of ball finds energy because he's never staying in the same spot.

“What we have to do a better job of is making sure we're aware that if the ball is on the other side of the floor, don't feel like you can relax and know at some point he's going to touch it. … To be honest with you, we're not going to prevent him from scoring because he's that good. We just want to make all his catches tough as well as his shots are well-contested and make him have to work for every bucket."

While opposing Big Ten big men have had their way against Michigan’s post defense in one-on-one coverage, Howard noted it will require a team effort to slow down Garza, whom he called a “special talent.”

Junior walk-on forward C.J. Baird, a vital member of the scout team, said there has been an emphasis on putting pressure on Iowa’s ball-handlers and making it hard for Garza to get the ball in the first place. But when Garza does, there's a focus on getting him to pick up his dribble sooner and further from the rim.

“In a lot of games that we've seen he gets really deep position in the post and can score an easy layup,” Baird said. “You want to make sure you get big men out of their rhythm by stabbing at the ball a little bit more and trying to make sure that he doesn't get going at home really early.”

That’s something the Wolverines (11-5, 2-3 Big Ten) failed to do in the first meeting as Garza scored 15 of Iowa’s first 17 points and needed less than five minutes to reach double figures in scoring.

Redshirt junior center Austin Davis said not letting Garza, who can finish over either shoulder and knock down outside shots, get into a similar groove in the early stages of the game is paramount.

“I think we need to do a little bit better job of taking the challenge right from the start, being ready to go right from the get-go and not let him get settled in,” Davis said.

“We need to do a better job of thinking about his tendencies, which way he wants to go. Then (we need to) move our feet to stay in front of him, cut him off of those angles and make him go to a secondary move.”

That’s where Baird and the scout team come into play. While no one can simulate Garza’s array of post moves, footwork and 6-foot-11 frame or replicate his 22 points per game in practice, they can imitate his tendencies — from the way he stops in the paint and gets early position to the way he uses his body in the post.

The hope is it will help Michigan’s big men, like senior center Jon Teske and Davis, know what to expect and better prepare them for the test that Garza will once again present.

“He commands the ball where he wants to on the block, under the rim and he gets to his spots,” Baird said. “That's one of the toughest things that's really underrated in basketball is a lot of people can get away with athleticism and make a really amazing play that's really showy, but he does all the little things right, especially around the rim.

“That's something we've been working on a lot in practice and we’re hoping that it'll translate tomorrow."

Michigan at Iowa

Tip-off: 9 p.m. Friday, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa

TV/radio: FS1/950

Records: No. 19 Michigan 11-5, 2-3 Big Ten; Iowa 12-5, 3-3

Outlook: With three assists, Zavier Simpson will pass Rumeal Robinson (575) for second on Michigan’s all-time assists list. … The Wolverines have lost five of the last six meetings at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. … Michigan (77 points) and Iowa (76.8) rank first and second in scoring offense in Big Ten play.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins