Missouri’s Linas Kleiza is a mismatch because he is as dangerous behind the 3-point line as he is under the basket.
But he didn’t need the arc to post a career high against Nebraska.
Kleiza, a sophomore forward, put the Tigers on his back, guiding them to an 80-70 win against Nebraska (8-7, 2-3 Big 12) at Mizzou Arena. Kleiza scored a career-high 31 points for the Tigers (10-8, 2-3 Big 12) but hit no shots from behind the arc.
Instead he used another line effectively, hitting 15-of-17 free throws, also a career high. He also had 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Kleiza has struggled lately and said he knew that he needed to pound the ball inside. He said his low-postoffense was something he had gotten away from in the past few games.
Even if he didn’t get the shot to fall, Kleiza said he hoped he could draw a foul.
“The last couple of games, I was a little soft in there,” Kleiza said. “Sometimes I would go get double teamed and they’d strip the ball and stuff. I’ve just got to go in and be strong to make referees make those calls.”
Usually a player who takes at least a few 3-pointers a game, Kleiza shot just one, which he missed. He said he didn’t plan to not shoot threes but knew he had to work inside to end his slump.
“If I had the chance (to shoot threes) I was going to, but I put so much focus and emphasis, especially today, just going inside and getting myself going again,” Kleiza said. “I had a couple of tough games and decided to go to the free-throw line to get my confidence back.”
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said Kleiza does much more for the team when he is playing well in the post.
“We’re better when we’re going to him on the block,” Snyder said. “No question about it. Especially because that’s where he gets to the line.”
Snyder said Kleiza played well because he played smart and with a lot of poise.
“I thought his decision making was very, very good when he had the ball,” Snyder said. “He either made his move right away or he’d wait and read the defense. It showed he was really efficient.”
The rest of the Tigers followed Kleiza’s lead and took just 14 threes. This strategy resulted in more high percentage shots. The Tigers hit for one of their best shooting percentages of the season.
Snyder also played a part in the lack of 3-pointers attempted.
“I’ve threatened a lot of things with our guys about 3-point shots,” Snyder said. “We’re trying to coach the take and not the make because I think you’ve got to be able have confidence in certain situations to make a shot.”
Snyder may not like a lot of 3-pointers but said he has no problem with Kleiza taking them if he chooses the right time to do it.
“There might be games where Linas takes half a dozen threes,” Snyder said. “But, I think they’ve got to come after he establishes himself inside. But he can’t do that on his own. I think his teammates, tonight, really did a good job of finding him.”