KANSAS CITY — Nebraska hasn’t found a way to stop Linas Kleiza.
Kleiza tied his second-best effort of the season to help the Tigers earn a 70-67 victory at Kemper Arena in Kansas City on Thursday. He scored 26 points and had 11 rebounds to propel Missouri into the second round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
Kleiza has scored in double digits in all three games this season against Nebraska. He scored a career high 31 and had 10 rebounds on Jan. 22 in Columbia. He had 15 points and seven rebounds in Lincoln on Feb. 19.
Junior guard Jimmy McKinney said it was easy to explain why Kleiza, a sophomore forward, is so successful against the Cornhuskers.
“It’s tough to guard him,” McKinney said. “They’ve got bigger players. He’s got 6-11 guarding him and he’s 6-8. So, it’s foot quickness and we just try to take advantage of it.”
The Cornhuskers held Kleiza to seven points in the first half, but in the second he scored 19, including 10 from the free-throw line.
Kleiza couldn’t say why he excels against Nebraska.
He gave a lot of credit to his teammates, however.
“I don’t even know, honestly,” Kleiza said. “They’re a good team. I give a lot of credit. What we did today was special … not special but very hard to do.”
Nebraska coach Barry Collier said his team struggled because Kleiza causes match-up problems.
“He’s a really hard player to guard one-on-one because he gets … he’s good,” Collier said. “He’s a solid shooter and from the outside and he can start a drive and finish strong inside. And I remember at least, oh, three or four times when he just muscled through our guys for a put-back.”
Kleiza’s play allowed the Tigers to control the flow of the game. McKinney said Kleiza was doing a lot to help out his team.
“For a moment, they were denying him,” McKinney said. “Making it hard for him to get the ball, but we stayed patient to get the ball where he could be successful. He was given the ball and he was drawing fouls, getting to the line and making his free throws. It was the most important thing for our game plan today.”
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said it was no secret to anyone that the Tigers were trying to get Kleiza some touches. Even so, the Cornhuskers were unable to upset Missouri’s game plan.
“The whole arena knew we were trying to get the ball to Linas,” Snyder said. “That’s where the ball needed to go. I thought we did a really good job of doing that for most of the night.”