Against Montana, Missouri forward Linas Kleiza had more points than minutes and was almost unstoppable in what turned out to be a career day.
In the Tigers’ 87-62 victory Saturday, Kleiza, a 6-foot-9 native of Lithuania, scored 26 points in 24 minutes to better his previous career high of 25.
After struggling for the Tigers (5-4) for the past few games, Kleiza found his range against Montana (3-4), shooting 60 percent from the field and 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
“It was a good day for me,” Kleiza said. “I started off kind of slow, missed shots, but I just kept my head in it and shots started falling. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
Slow might be an understatement for Kleiza’s start. He struggled to get a basket for most of the first half.
With 7 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first half, Kleiza had not hit any of his first four attempts. Kleiza said, because his shots weren’t falling, he decided to drive to the basket and see if he could get to the line. The plan worked and by 3:56 he was 3-of-8 with a 3-pointer.
“When the shot’s not falling at first, I was just, ‘I’m going to get to the free-throw line and I’ve got to create for my teammate or for myself some under the basket,’” Kleiza said. “I think that’s what got me going.”
Kleiza finished the first half with 16 points and came out even hotter in the second half. He shot 100 percent in the second but was finally shut down by fouls.
Kleiza got his fourth foul with 9:42 left and went directly to the bench. He returned to the game with five minutes left but got his fifth and final foul only 26 seconds later. Kleiza walked off the court to a huge ovation. Kleiza said he was upset with his fouls, especially his fourth one after which he slammed the basketball to the floor. He said he wasn’t upset because he was being taken out, but because the foul came because of bad defense.
“It was a little frustration because I got a fourth foul, it’s not like I wanted to stay in the game but we just made a bad play,” Kleiza said. “I was a little frustrated by our defense.”
Besides fouling out, Kleiza failed to contribute in other aspects of the game. Although he played strong defense, he had only two rebounds, no assists, steals or blocks and three turnovers. Missouri coach Quin Snyder said this was uncharacteristic of Kleiza, who is usually the Tigers’ most consistent rebounder. He said he would like to see more out of Kleiza.
“His reads, that’s the biggest thing, his reads,” Snyder said. “When he’s going in there and kind of putting his head down and spinning, sometimes it works and sometimes is doesn’t. It’s kind of a roll of the dice but when he’s reading and looking and really playing with his mind he’s a much more efficient offensive player.”
Snyder said as the game progressed Kleiza relaxed and started to play a smarter game and used his head instead of his size.