IOWA CITY — Luka Garza searched his memory for a second before answering.
He was asked if the Iowa basketball team ever has had every player available for a single practice this season, going all the way back to the start of fall practice.
"I don’t know if we ever have," Garza said.
The Hawkeyes haven’t had many major, season-ending injuries, but they’ve had more than their share of smaller, nagging ailments. However, they should be a little closer to full strength today when they host 16th-ranked Ohio State in a 1:30 p.m. battle at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Forward Tyler Cook, who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, said he is "pretty confident" he will be able to play against the Buckeyes after sitting out Wednesday’s game at Northwestern with a sore right knee.
Cook admitted the knee has bothered him for a few weeks, but he had been able to play through it.
"It just got tight on me before the last game, and I didn’t feel it was smart for me to go out there," he said.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery wasn’t quite as positive that Cook will return when he spoke to reporters Friday. He said he wanted to see how the 6-foot-9 junior looked in practice.
Cook’s ailment, which is the result of wear and tear more than an actual injury, is the latest in a long line of nagging issues for the Hawkeyes.
It began when Garza had preseason surgery for the removal of a 9-pound cyst from his abdomen. Jordan Bohannon missed a large chunk of preseason practice with an injury. Cordell Pemsl had his season ended by knee surgery. There have been concussions, cracked ribs and at least four significant sprained ankles.
"It has been a unique year," McCaffery said. "Jack Nunge, he has a stress fracture, so he's out for six weeks. So even if we wanted to play him, we couldn't. He's out. …
"We've had more sprained ankles than I've ever seen, ever, and that's just bad luck. The kids are taped, and they're in shape. Luckily we have a deep enough roster. I mean, it's interesting because we decide to redshirt two guys, and now we have to redshirt three guys, and then we've had the other injuries."
Garza said there have been a lot of smaller nicks and bruises that no one outside the program knows about.
"A lot of people are playing through different stuff because that’s kind of how we’re built," he said. "We’re strong-minded and want to help our team."
The Hawkeyes (13-3, 2-3 Big Ten) responded to the Cook injury the same way they have most of the others. They rose to the occasion and defeated Northwestern 73-63 even with their star watching from the bench.
Garza, who missed three games with one of those sprained ankles, showed that he is almost completely healthy. He said he had no soreness in his ankle after scoring 16 points in 26 minutes of action against the Wildcats.
Iowa may need big efforts from both him and Cook today against an Ohio State team that is 12-3 (2-2 in the Big Ten) but has lost its last two games and will be desperate to end that skid. Both Cook and Garza will have a hand in defending 6-9 Kaleb Wesson, who is the Buckeyes’ top weapon.
"He's a handful," McCaffery said. "He's 270 (pounds). He's crafty. They do a good job of getting him the ball in a variety of different ways. Obviously, they're not a one-dimensional team. They've got a lot of other weapons. Eventually it's going to work its way back to him at some point, but that's not all they do."
Garza saw a lot of Wesson at the AAU level, and Cook saw plenty of him in a pair of Ohio State victories over the Hawkeyes last season.
"He’s a big guy and that is a challenge in itself," Cook said. "He’s really skilled, though, and he knows how to get his."
Cook said he will be happy just to get back on the court. He was reminded Wednesday how much he dislikes sitting the bench.
"That was like the least fun I’ve had at a basketball game," he said. "I forgot what it felt like because I hadn’t sat out since my freshman year. The game seemed like it lasted for 12 hours, honestly.
"It’s hard, but I was able to see some things I don’t see when I’m playing the game. It felt like I needed to coach, but we have coaches for that. It wasn’t fun, but I’m glad it’s not something that’s going to last. I’ll be back on the floor (Saturday)."