Guards playing big role

Several backcourt players shine in Tigers’ scrimmage.
Sunday, October 26, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Replacing the offense of the departed Ricky Clemons is a pressing issue for the Missouri men’s basketball team.

Sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney and newcomers Jason Conley and Thomas Gardner offered a few suggestions at the Black and Gold scrimmage at Hearnes Center on Saturday.

They combined for 42 points and led the Black team’s second-half comeback to a 56-48 win.

With their team trailing 30-23 early in the second 12-minute half, Gardner and McKinney converted steals into back-to-back dunks that brought the Black team within 30-27 in 15 seconds.

Gardner and McKinney powered a six-point run that got the Black team back in the game.

With five minutes to play, Gardner gave his team its first lead at 38-36. Two Gardner free throws put the Black team ahead for good at 42-40. The free throws sparked a 13-6 run that included a Kevin Young put-back and four free throws from McKinney.

Leading 53-46, the Black team pulled away. McKinney, Conley and Gardner controlled the end of the game, scoring the Black team’s last nine points.

The reason for their harmony was simple, said McKinney.

“We are the same players,” he said. “We play just alike. We know what’s our weakness and what’s our strengths. We just play together, and we play real well together.”

Experience favored the Gold team, which included the Tigers’ four seniors, but the Black team’s chemistry was too effective.

Junior transfer Randy Pulley controlled the point for the Gold team, but his squad struggled to find the same balance. Coach Quin Snyder said he is confident Pulley can prove to be a capable leader in the backcourt once he is more familiar with the players’ styles.

“We’ve got to coach him,” Snyder said. “Randy’s got to learn what we want out there on the floor. (Center Arthur Johnson) can’t go for a five- or six-minute stretch without touching the ball, and that’s not just Randy’s fault.”

The Tigers struggled with depth last season, but Snyder said this year’s squad is showing it possesses all the personnel it needs. Now the Tigers need to find the right connections to sort out their new-found depth.

“We have some good combinations that we can go to,” Snyder said. “Guys have to separate themselves. That’s what it comes down to.”

The process of separating begins in practice.

“Most people see it as a competition because our team is so deep,” Gardner said. “We all play at the same position, but when we’re on the court, we just want it. Overall, we had a great time out there. We just had a good feel for each other and wanted to win. Our ultimate goal is just to win.”

Gardner led the Black team’s charge, scoring 12 of his game-high 17 points in the second half.

Conley said the high level of competition during the first week of practice helped push him and his team to the win.

“Every single day in practice, it’s a fight; it’s a battle,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Is that a bad thing, having so many people competing for a spot?’ But that’s what it’s all about; if you want to win, you have to compete every single day.”

After transferring from VMI in January, Conley has been eager to get into the game-day atmosphere the scrimmage provided. He is forced back to the bench, ineligible for the Tigers’ two exhibition and first four regular-season games because of transfer rules.

“I have to say that flame has built up inside of me because I’ve been wanting to play with these guys so much over the last year,” he said. “And finally I got the opportunity to come out and play. So now it’s going to be tough to sit out for two months.”

KLEIZA WATCH: Freshman Linas Kleiza struggled in the scrimmage, going 3-of-8 from the field, committing six fouls and fumbling the ball several times. Kleiza said his afternoon was more troubled by an injury than nerves.

He sprained the rotator cuff in his right arm in practice last week when he accidentally caught his arm in the net. Kleiza iced his shoulder after the scrimmage and said the injury was improving.

“It’s all right,” Kleiza said. “It’s getting better. It’s still not 100 percent.”

–Michael Petre, S. Scott Rosenberg and Angela Stricker contributed.

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