On Jan. 7, during a fruitless road trip to Nebraska, Iowa junior center Luka Garza started for the Hawkeyes against the Huskers and scored 16 points in a stunning 76-70 defeat. He grabbed 18 rebounds and made nearly half his shot attempts, but also drew few fouls, shot few free throws and experienced neither his customary level of team or individual success.Garza has played 16 times since. He has been challenged by such extraordinary big men as Maryland’s Jalen Smith, Rutgers’ Myles Johnson and the smaller but amazingly oppressive Xavier Tillman of Michigan State. Garza has faced tag-teams from Illinois (Kofi Cockburn-Giorgi Bezhanishvili), Penn State (John Harrar-Michael Watkins) and Purdue (Matt Haarms-Trevion Williams). He has been double-teamed, fronted, bumped, pushed, harassed and hounded. “It’s always a beautiful thing when, as a coach, you don’t have to be the one motivating. He’s already motivated. Some days I feel like saying, ‘Luka, take your girlfriend to the movies.’”If you observed Garza at work, felt his tireless intensity, you’d get the feeling the movie they’d see would be, “Iowa vs. Penn State, 2/29/20.” He scored 25 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked four shots in that one. Spoiler alert: It had a happy ending, a 77-68 win for the Hawkeyes.There are no Oscars for such performances, but there are other awards. And in every one of those games, Garza scored at least 20. Usually more. Usually a lot more. That string of 20-point games is the third-longest in the Big Ten over the last 20 years. Against conference competition, he put together a season that ranked with the five best scoring performances in the past 45 years, placing him in the company of such greats as Scott Skiles of Michigan State, Dennis Hopson of Ohio State and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson of Purdue.COACH OF THE YEAR:Dayton’s Anthony GrantGarza is accustomed to having company on a basketball court, usually in the form of defenders attempting to prevent him from catching the ball and scoring. In at least one sense, though, he stands alone:Garza is the Sporting News Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season.He earned it by averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in a league so competitive that 11 teams rank in the top 30 of the respected computer ratings at KenPom.com. The Hawkeyes finished the regular season at 20-11, ranked No. 25 in the latest Associated Press poll, with victories over No. 12 Maryland, No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 19 Ohio State and No. 21 Illinois.“Doing it in this league … I mean, there’s just no relief,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told Sporting News. “And that’s why nobody puts up the numbers consistently that he did. You’re just bound to have an off game; you’re bound to have a 4-for-14.“It’s not something you get to experience very often as a coach. You get some great ones, and you’re thrilled to have them, and they go for 20 every once in a while. If they’re between 15 and 20, you’re happy. There are some games I think they did a really good defensive job on him, and you look at it, and he got 26.”He put up 33 in a victory against Michigan, 28 against Rutgers, 25 against Illinois. He rung up 30 or more points five times during the course of the season. He recorded 15 double-doubles.Perhaps most impressive, he so rarely left the court. He averaged 32 minutes per game for the season, and in Big Ten play he went the full 40 three times. He plays so much because he fouls so rarely, maintaining the discipline to “get tall,” as McCaffery describes it, and keep his hands high. So many defenders guarding the rim or the baseline surrender to the temptation to bring their arms down to swat away shots. Garza understands the punishment that maneuver invites.“He doesn’t wear down. It’s almost like he’s better, because he’s in such great shape and he’s so relentless,” McCaffery told SN. “The people he’s playing against, even if they rotate guys on him, they get worn down. Obviously, as a coach, you can only imagine what a great feeling that is.”When McCaffery first saw Garza as a prospect, he was “a wide body.” Now he’s 6-11, 260 pounds, and the stamina and drive he exhibits late in games is the product of years of intensive training — first to lose excess weight and then to add muscle and power and endurance.But the work he invested was not just on his body; it was a total package of offensive skills. He averaged double-figure scoring in each of his first two seasons, and those dozen or so points might have been enough for a lot of players. Garza instead worked to expand his game.He has made 39-of-109 from 3-point range this season, using that ability to draw big defenders away from the goal as both a weapon and a decoy. He handles the ball well enough to advance in short bursts, to pull-up jumpers or to dump the ball to teammates when he draws defenders. In the post, he is equally adept at moving into either shoulder with either hand. He even has a truncated version of the Sikma move that allows him to clear space for short jumpshots.“That’s a process, and as you know, everybody’s in a big rush: ‘I got to be one and done, I got to get to the league.’ You know, what you have to do is get your game right. Get your body right. And that’s what he’s done, and it’s been fun to watch,” McCaffery said.