Iowa's Luka Garza in tears after early tournament exit: 'Something that's gonna haunt me forever'

Jason Owens
·3 min read

Iowa did not expect be done with the NCAA men's tournament on Monday.

The No. 2 seed Hawkeyes entered tournament play with one of the best teams in program history and eyes on a national championship. Instead, they got blitzed by a red-hot Oregon team that hit 56% of its field goals in a 95-80 second-round upset.

The emotions of the moment weighed heavy on Iowa star Luka Garza before the final buzzer sounded. Head coach Fran McCaffery subbed Garza out in the game's final minute to allow him a proper exit at the end of his Iowa career. He was in tears before he got to the bench as Iowa faithful in the stands gave him a standing ovation.

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Rival AD's touching message upon Garza's exit

Garza leaves Iowa as the program's most decorated player. As a senior, he averaged 23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and a consensus All-American as a junior, Garza is among the favorites for National Player of the Year honors and likely to repeat his All-America status.

He's the kind of player to draw public praise from a rival athletic director at the end of his career. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard posted this on Twitter at the end of Monday's game:

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Garza: 'It's heartbreaking'

Scouts aren't sold on Garza's game translating to the NBA. His basketball future is up in the air. But one thing is certain. His Iowa basketball career is over, and it fell well short of this year's lofty goals of a national title. Garza, who posted 36 points and nine rebounds in Monday's loss, talked about his emotions after the game, still fighting back tears.

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"It's heartbreaking," Garza said. "It's so surreal. It kind of all hit me at once. This is the last time that I'll put on this jersey. That hurts a lot.

"I feel bad that I wasn't able to lead this team to where it needs to go. We did a lot of really, really good things this year. It just hurts that we weren't able to do it when it matters most. That's something that's gonna haunt me forever."

Garza's emotions embody the nature of the NCAA tournament that provides so many sudden — and often unexpected — endings. Garza, whose jersey will be retired, has spent the last four years of his life dedicated to playing basketball at Iowa. For the first time since he arrived in Iowa City, he'll wake up Tuesday morning without that identity.

It's a lot to digest. Especially when you expected to play on into the tournament's second weekend.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 22: Luka Garza #55 of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts to the teams loss against the Oregon Ducks in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
The finality of the moment came crashing down on Garza as his Iowa career came to an end on Monday. (Jack Dempsey/Getty Images)

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