Tigers use Kleiza to stymie Grizzlies

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Linas Kleiza scored a career-high 26 points in an 87-62 victory over Montana.

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Linas Kleiza has waited and waited, expecting it to happen at some point this season.

On Saturday, it did. Kleiza found his shooting touch and scored a career-high 26 points to lead Missouri to an 87-62 win over Montana.

After missing his first five shots, Kleiza converted 9-of-10 shots the rest of the way, including four 3-pointers he attempted.

"I started off kind of slow, but I just kept my head in it and shots started falling," Kleiza said. "I've been waiting for it for a long time."

Entering the game as Missouri's leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, Kleiza had shot better than 40 percent in just two games. His 60 percent mark against Montana is his best of the season.

Missouri coach Quin Snyder said Kleiza realized he did not have to do everything on offense, opening up more opportunities for his teammates and himself.

"I think sometimes he can kind of want to put the whole world on his back and march up the hill," Snyder said. "He just needs to let the game come to him. As the game progressed, I think he got more relaxed and more settled in his reads."

Jimmy McKinney added 11 points for the Tigers (5-4), while Kalen Grimes had a career-high 12 points in 14 minutes. Kamarr Davis had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead Montana (3-4).

Kleiza's shooting struggles have mirrored Missouri's this season. The Tigers shot just 30 percent in a home 62-52 loss to Arkansas on Tuesday before going 33-for-69 against Montana, a 48 percent mark. That accuracy led to Missouri's highest point total of the season, but Kleiza said the offense is not where it needs to be yet.

"Some other guys' shots weren't falling, but we stuck to our game plan and did what our coaches told us to do," Kleiza said. "And it worked."

Kleiza had a lot to do with that. With Missouri ahead 14-10, he rallied the Tigers to a 16-point halftime lead. After missing his first four shots, Kleiza scored 16 points in the last eight minutes of the half. Missouri scored the final 10 points and took a 37-21 lead into break.

In the second half, Kleiza picked up where he left off, opening the Tigers' scoring with a 3-pointer. Missouri extended its lead to as many as 20 points before the Grizzlies cut into the deficit with an 11-1 run that made it 50-40.

The Tigers have given away big leads several times this season, but two plays turned the momentum back their way. An alley-oop dunk by Jason Conley followed by a 3-pointer from Kleiza a minute later returned the Tigers' lead to 17 points. Montana did not challenge the rest of the way.

Conley said it was important for the Tigers to put a team away and earn a comfortable win.

"I've been talking about it for weeks now," Conley said. "You have to finish guys off, and I think that's what we did tonight."

Montana coach Larry Krystowiak said Missouri outperformed the Grizzlies in all aspects of the game.

"I think Missouri just attacked us," Krystowiak said. "They fought every touch. We tried to get into our offense, and we were just kind of manhandled from one through five."

Missouri also received good production from its four freshmen. Grimes, Glen Dandridge, Jason Horton and Marshall Brown all played more than 10 minutes each for the first time and combined for 28 points and eight rebounds.

"Any time you come into a program, you have to learn not only what's expected, but what it takes," Snyder said. "I think those guys are learning the level they have to play at. It was good to see guys make an impact like that."

Grimes was the most productive of the freshmen, playing the most minutes of his Missouri career and using them well. He shot 5-for-8 from the field and had several big blocks to slow the Montana offense.

"We got a lot of guys who can score, but we're still young," Kleiza said. "We're learning how to play with each other and how to get other guys going."

Missouri held Davis, Montana's leading scorer, to two points in the first half.

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