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Gonzaga 99, Iowa 88: Snap back to reality

A rough day for Iowa on both ends of the floor provides a wakeup call for the #3 Hawkeyes

Hawkeye Sports

Luka Garza and his No. 3 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes faced a rude awakening at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD as they fell 99-88 at the hands of Jalen Suggs and the the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.

A lot of things went wrong in this game for Iowa, but its performance in two areas — particularly in the first half — stick out like two sore thumbs: three-point shooting and rebounds. Gonzaga shot an absolute lights-out 75% from beyond the arc in the first half, before leveling off to 50%, compared to Iowa’s abysmal 19% on 4-21 from deep. And in the rebounding area, the Hawks were demolished in the first half as well, but were beat 49-38 in rebounding — two areas that could have swung the outcome in Iowa’s favor on a different day.

It was a typical, if “quiet” day at the office for Garza, who finished the day with 30 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists, but he was overshadowed by Gonzaga freshman phenom Jalen Suggs, who tallied 27 points (thanks to 7-10 shooting from 3, aka more 3’s than the entire Iowa team...), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block for good measure. He was the X-factor for the Bulldogs and a key cog in the team’s early first half lead that made things much, much more difficult for Iowa.

Behind Garza in the box score was Joe Wieskamp, who finished the day with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, and Jack Nunge and Joe Toussaint rounded out Iowa’s double-digit scorers with 10 and 14 points, respectively. Nobody in the back and gold really had what one would consider a dominant offensive day, but Toussaint definitely shined in the second half and has proven he’s deserving of more playing time — especially after another game where Jordan Bohannon struggled mightily from deep, going 0-5 from beyond the arc and 1-8 overall for 2 points on the day.

Garza got things started off, giving Iowa a 2-0 very early lead, but things got a little off the rails for a bit afterwards, as both teams got re-adjusted to live basketball. Gonzaga, of course, came into the matchup after 2 weeks off from playing due to complications from COVID-19, and Iowa came in playing its last game a week ago Sunday due to finals.

From there, we had the back-and-forth scoring affair we all expected to see, both teams seemingly trading the lead every possession, until Gonzaga was able to rip off an 8-0 run that put them up 18-14. The Zags played at a blisteringly fast pace, and it took everything the Hawks had to respond to it. But somehow, they managed early, keeping the game within 5 points — but it seemed like Gonzaga could never miss at times, and quickly, it was 33-24 with 7:42 left in the half after another 8-0 run.

Gonzaga stifling Iowa’s passing lanes and transition offense was a big reason why, along with the play of Jalen Suggs. The freshman guard was constantly picking off Hawkeye passes, and drilling big shots on the other end of the floor. It seemed like Iowa just couldn’t contain him, no matter what they tried to do. Also not helping was the fact that as Gonzaga extended its lead, the Hawks couldn’t buy a bucket to end the half.

It just seemed like the Hawks could never catch a break - on shots falling, on toss-up turnovers, on pretty much everything, and quickly the Gonzaga lead had ballooned to as high as 48-31, before leveling off to a 51-37 halftime score, with Gonzaga shooting an incredible 75% from 3-point range in the half.

But unfortunately for the Hawks, the second half was much like the first, with Gonzaga (and Suggs) making shots no matter how clean the look, and Iowa missing them, also no matter how clean the look. Any time Iowa would chip away at the lead, Gonzaga would turn right around and erase the momentum. While the three point shooting cooled down, the Bulldogs instead found other ways to hurt the Hawks, this half primarily from strong lane penetration and midrange jumpers.

With barely 7 minutes passed in the second half, Gonzaga’s lead was all but insurmountable at 71-51. The Hawks were just outright beat at every level, especially shooting, turnovers and rebounding. With 10 minutes left, the Hawks managed to middle down the Bulldogs lead to 14, but again, every time, Gonzaga responded when they needed to. The Hawks did manage to bring the deficit down late in the game to as little as 9, but even then, the Bulldogs were able to respond, despite looking gassed at times from their fast-paced tempo.

For Iowa, it’s certainly a demoralizing loss in a lot of ways. The team looked exposed at times: when Garza’s doubled and can’t score, and the threes aren’t falling around the perimeter, there’s not much there. And the defense certainly left a lot to be desired as well. This team will need to make a lot of improvements if it truly wants to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

The Hawks wanted to play the Bulldogs as a way to prove their ascendence to the upper-echelon of college basketball talent. Instead, the Bulldogs gave the Hawks a rude awakening, and some questions they’ll need to answer if they truly want to compete this season.