Tigers’ Kleiza lacks only defense

Thursday, November 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:10 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

On Wednesday night, Linas Kleiza played wing, forward, center and even a little point. He did everything.

Everything but play defense.

Missouri coach Quin Snyder said he was pleased with Kleiza’s offensive play, especially in the first half when he scored 17 points. However, Snyder didn’t show the same excitement about the Lithuanian’s defensive execution.

“In the first half, (Kleiza) was terrific offensively but he wasn’t as solid, he was playing hard defensively but he wasn’t as disciplined,” Snyder said. “He needs to be an anchor for us defensively.”

Kleiza, who brought the ball down court for the Tigers a couple of times in the first half, pulled down six offensive boards and scored 23 points.

Kleiza’s shot couldn’t miss. He hit 11-of-14 field goal attempts, including 1-of-3 on 3-point attempts in Missouri’s 90-60 win against Northwest Missouri State.

Defense was another story. He had only three defensive rebounds and three steals in 30 total minutes, the longest anyone was on the court.

Snyder said when the big men were playing good defense the entire team looked better. He didn’t blame it all on bad play though. He said the Bearcats did a lot to shut down Kleiza’s game.

“They’re a very well coached team that is used to winning,” Snyder said.

Kleiza seemed pleased with his play after the game, smiling when hearing some of his stats. He didn’t want to take the credit, though. Instead he said it was his team that lifted his game.

Kleiza talked about how he kept getting the ball from different teammates.

“All I had to do was put it in,” Kleiza said.

When Kleiza was asked about the praise as one of the best players in the Big 12 Conference, he quickly put the question aside and said he was just worried about the next game against Brown.

Kleiza said he didn’t think his defense has been a consistent problem but knew he made some mistakes.

“Sometimes I just forget about it too much,” Kleiza said. “You know, concentrate too much on offense, but I’m working on it.”

Kleiza’s play awed senior forward Jason Conley. He joked that after Kleiza put up a shot it was hard to go to the glass because he just knew it was going to go in. He said after a while his body was telling him he should just stop waiting for the rebound.

“He’s a great player,” Conley said. “I’m just so happy he chose to come play with us and not anybody else.”

Jimmy McKinney, a junior guard, echoed Conley’s praise for Kleiza. McKinney said when a player was on his game like Kleiza, it relaxes the rest of the team and it helps the players in the open court.

“You know, for the guys like Thomas (Gardner) and Linas being hot, we just look for them,” McKinney said. “We look for them and let them make the decision ‘cause they’re the hot guys.”

The Tigers might not stay as hot as they have been the past two games against the tougher competition they will face in the regular season. Snyder said he knows this and knows that their defense will have to greatly improve.

“We gave up 39 points in the first half; (the defense) is not where we want it to be,” Snyder said.

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