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Iowa Enters Conference Play On Five Game Winning Streak

After losing 6 of 7 earlier in the year, the Hawkeyes turned it around to give themselves a fighting chance in Big Ten

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Iowa
 Iowa Hawkeyes forward Luka Garza (55) shoots a free throw against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the second half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa won 98-75.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes rode the hot hand of freshman Luka Garza to a win against Northern Illinois on Friday to cap off conference play heading into a pair of key conference home games against Michigan and Ohio State.

Luka Garza had a career night for the Hawkeyes as he posted a career-high 25 points with seven rebounds and five blocks in just 16 minutes of action. He shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. He only had two 3-pointers prior to the game.

Garza, a Washington D.C. native, has not been getting quite the minutes he got earlier in the season but has made the most of his limited action in the past five non-conference games reaching double-digit points on four occasions, including a 23-point, 13-rebound effort against Drake — his second double-double of the year.

Iowa, led by seven assists from Jordan Bohannon, tied its school record in assists with 34 on 36 buckets against Northern Illinois.

Sophomore Cordell Pemsl has been crucial off the bench this season, including in the win against NIU and finished with nine points, four rebounds, four assists and a block and steal. He’s averaging 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game.

Iowa, a young but talented squad, has battled inconsistencies while slumping through November and early December to finish 2017 strong albeit against not-so-great mid-majors and Colorado. Regardless, being back at home for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to restart conference play could be a huge factor in scheduling to give the Hawkeyes a chance to salvage their season.

Just mere weeks ago, Iowa’s season was slipping away after dropping six of seven contests to fall to 4-6 and 0-2 in the Big Ten. After finishing 19-10 last year on the back of Peter Jok and a young supporting cast, some might have hoped for a bigger improvement, but that looked out of the question following a rivalry loss to Iowa State. However, the Hawkeyes buckled down and finished the non-conference slate as expected to give themselves a fighting chance for a decent position in the Big Ten. It will not be easy as they face stiff competition in the conference with all 14 teams finishing non-conference play with winning records. However, luckily Iowa will have a nice home-court advantage in several key matchups in January and February.

To start, Iowa will matchup against Michigan (12-3) at 7 p.m (ET) on Jan. 2. Michigan is also riding a five-game win streak since finishing the conference teaser matchups with a win against Indiana and a loss against Iowa’s next opponent Ohio State. Michigan beat UCLA in overtime then downed Texas before toppling a trio of unmatched mid-majors.

After Ohio State, Iowa hits the road and will travel to Maryland, Illinois, and Rutgers.

It’s not likely that Iowa will suddenly contend in the conference, but the Hawkeyes are well-positioned with some playmakers to make some noise especially with several intriguing home games later on down their schedule.