Kleiza keeps Missouri alive, dooms 'Huskers

Friday, March 11, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Once he finally started scoring, Linas Kleiza didn't want to stop.

Held scoreless for almost 17 minutes of the first half, Missouri's 6-foot-8 junior broke out for 26 points Thursday to lead the Tigers past Nebraska 70-67 in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

Joe McCray, minutes after breaking the Big 12 freshman record for 3-pointers in a season, launched one from behind the arc with 3 seconds left. But it rattled in and out, giving the Tigers their third victory this season over the Huskers.

Kleiza, the Tigers' leading scorer and rebounder, was held in check by Nebraska's zone defense until he finally hit a short jumper late in the first half. His 26 points were the most scored in a Big 12 tournament game against Nebraska (14-14).

"My teammates started looking for me more," he said. "They were able to find me before the half and I got it going. I was able to get some good points inside."

In the semifinals today, the Tigers (16-15) will play conference co-champion Oklahoma, which lost 68-65 in overtime at Missouri on Feb. 12.

"It was such a close game when we played them the last time," said Missouri's Jimmy McKinney. "We have to rebound and make it tough on the defensive end."

It was the seventh straight tournament loss for the Huskers and their sixth straight in the first round. But Nebraska athletic director Steve Pedersen said Barry Collier, who has been criticized after going 70-76 in his first five years, will return as coach next year.

"We just wanted to end any speculation," Pederson said. "I think we've done a good job recruiting. We haven't had the success on the court we hoped we'd have."

After Kleiza's two free throws gave Missouri a 69-62 lead with 1:56 to go, McCray hit his record-breaking 3-pointer, giving him 80 for the year to break the old mark of 79 held by Jeff Boschee of Kansas and Bernard King of Texas A&M. Then Jake Muhleisen got a put-back that made it 69-67.

With 9 seconds left, Kleiza rebounded a miss by Jason Dourisseau and was fouled. At that point, he was 10-for-10 from the line, but he missed his first and then made his second, giving McCray a shot at a tie.

"I thought it was good," said McCray, who was 3-for-10 from 3-point range.

McCray had 20 points and Dourisseau had 18 for the Huskers, who had 10 turnovers in the first half but none in the second.

Thomas Gardner had 13 for Missouri, which won for only the second time this year away from home.

Kleiza's first bucket put Missouri ahead 25-18, then he scored the next five points.

After Missouri took a 32-25 halftime lead, Kleiza started the second half with a three-point play, a 3-pointer and a contested 6-footer he banked home for a 40-25 lead.

Charles Richardson's two free throws started a 14-6 run that brought Nebraska to within 57-52. A few minutes later, McCray made a pair of foul shots that sliced the lead to 63-59.

Kleiza had eleven rebounds to go with his 26 points.

"He's a really hard player to guard one-on-one," Collier said. "I remember at least three or four times he muscled through a guys for a put-back."

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