Luka Garza’s Iowa career ends in brilliant, tearful March Madness masterpiece

Luka Garza has likely experienced the agony of defeat for the last time as an Iowa Hawkeye.

Despite another show of brilliance from the senior, 2-seed Iowa lost a hard-fought match to 7-seed Oregon in Monday’s Round 2 matchup, 95-80. It was the Ducks’ first game of the tournament after they advanced past VCU with no contest because of COVID-19 issues.

Record books will indicate that Iowa lost Monday’s matchup, but it certainly wasn’t for a failure to show up and perform by Garza. The 6-11, 265-pound senior was a force in his final game, putting up game-highs in points (36) and rebounds (nine) on 14-of-20 shooting. He produced nearly half of the Hawkeyes’ scoring output.

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Despite his valiant attempts to push the Hawkeyes forward to the Sweet 16, it was clear their lack of defense would doom them to an early exit in the tournament. So when Garza left the court for the final time with roughly 36 seconds remaining, he wore his emotions on his sleeve for all of college basketball to see.

With that, Garza ends his career as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, a two-time unanimous All-America selection and only the seventh player to win Sporting News Player of the Year more than once (and the first since Michael Jordan in 1982-83). He could have left Iowa after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled and still would have been considered among the greats. But his commitment to the Hawkeyes spurred him to return one more time with the hopes of winning a national title.

Those hopes fell short on Monday, but that doesn’t detract from Garza’s Iowa career, in which he averaged 18.0 points per game, 7.3 assists per game, a 54.4 field goal percentage and a 36.2 3-point percentage. He was most dominant in his final two seasons, averaging 23.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, nearly two blocks per game and a 54.4 field goal percentage. He led Iowa to a 22-8 record and helped the Hawkeyes tie their record for Big Ten wins in a season (14).

Garza should feel no shame for the tears he shed on Monday: His was an all-time career that didn’t get the ending it deserved.

Such is life in March Madness.

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