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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The blood oozing from Luka Garza’s face told you everything you needed to know about Thursday’s semifinal game in the Las Vegas Invitational.
Iowa was playing this game as if it knew how good a victory over No. 12 Texas Tech would look to the NCAA Tournament selection committee come March. Coach Fran McCaffery put senior Jordan Bohannon into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The Hawkeyes were scrappy from the outset, taking the fight right to a physical Red Raiders team.
Texas Tech, the national championship runner-up a year ago, is fielding a young team that includes only two players from that group. And the Red Raiders looked timid early. The second half was a bloodbath, with Garza, Iowa’s junior center, going down hard beneath the basket at one point with his face covered in blood.
Garza returned. Iowa held on.
Hawkeyes 72, Red Raiders 61.
The atmosphere at Orleans Arena, with hundreds of loud fans on both sides, felt like an NCAA Tournament game. Iowa (5-1) played its best game since losing to Tennessee in that tournament in April.
Bohannon scored 20 points while playing 33 gutty minutes on a sore hip. Garza had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Joe Wieskamp scored 16 points.
And redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick made the biggest shot of the game, corralling a pass from Cordell Pemsl with 5 seconds on the shot clock and Iowa leading by only two points and rising for a 3-pointer. He had 10 points.
Here’s what we learned:
WIESKAMP NEEDS TO BE FOCAL POINT: The sophomore forward was averaging only 11 points per game entering play. Yes, his shooting was a little off. But it was also because Iowa hadn’t seemed to make the adjustment that he is no longer the fourth option on this offense, behind Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss. The Hawkeyes fed Wieskamp the ball from the outset, and he responded with 13 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting.
BOHANNON IS A DIFFERENCE-MAKER IN STARTING LINEUP: Iowa’s senior guard hadn’t started yet this season after May hip surgery. He was averaging 19 minutes per game. But with starting power forward Jack Nunge sidelined with a knee injury, Bohannon was inserted into the lineup to give the Hawkeyes a four-guard look. That works against a smaller, quicker team like Texas Tech. And it paid immediate dividends. Bohannon is a calming presence. He is an exceptional shooter. He is a leader. He seemed to be the one to bail Iowa out whenever the Red Raiders went on a run. Bohannon played 17 minutes in the first half, made 3 of 4 3-pointers for nine points and added a team-high four assists.
AN ACTIVE IOWA MAN-TO-MAN DEFENSE IS DISRUPTIVE: The Hawkeyes were the aggressors, plain and simple. They got into the Red Raiders’ space. They made things uncomfortable. Tech was 1-for-12 from the 3-point arc in the first half. Iowa forced eight turnovers. The Red Raiders hadn’t faced this kind of intense pressure yet this season, and the young team got flustered. Credit Iowa for that.
Iowa plays Creighton or San Diego State in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday.
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