[caption id="attachment_331312" align="aligncenter" width="1592"] Hannah Phillips | UK Athletics
Sometimes, you need a good grab in the face to understand that now is not the time to let the anger overflow.
During a crucial stretch of the fourth quarter on New Year's Eve against No. 10 Arkansas, senior forward KeKe McKinney
provided the hand of reason. Her mission? Get the point across to her Kentucky teammate, Robyn Benton
, that now was not the time to argue with the officials--no matter how wrong she thought they were.
McKinney wasn't shy with her actions or words, lighting into a clearly frustrated Benton to help prevent any more emotions from boiling over during a key moment in the game.
"It was in the heat of the moment," McKinney said after the game. "Robyn, she had a great stop, and to us it wasn't a foul, but the referees called it, and you know, in the heat of the moment, emotions are high and everything, and she was just going. We were up and we didn't need anything to stop us, so I kind of just grabbed her mouth to be like, alright, just chill out, we got it, just calm down."
Let's set the scene real quick.
The No. 13 Wildcats were slowly separating themselves from the Razorbacks over the course of the final 10 minutes. They started with a four-point lead entering the fourth frame, but quickly built it to a steady 8-9 point lead.
Benton picked up her fourth foul of the night on a questionable call with the Wildcats leading 59-51 and just a little over five minutes remaining on the clock. The former Auburn transfer was impressive in the first three quarters, canning three 3-pointers, but she became a magnet for phantom contact in the second half. She picked up two fouls in the third quarter, the second on a call that she vehemently disagreed with that came at the 3:43 mark in the third quarter.
Benton let her arms float lifelessly to the hardwood after she was called for the foul, continually shaking her head as she made her way to the bench.
[video width="2260" height="1166" mp4="https://kentuckysportsradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Robyn-bad-call.mp4"][/video]
That play resulted in her third foul and a quick seat on the bench. She did not return again until the fourth quarter, roughly two minutes before she would pick up the fourth foul call and the wrath of McKinney's palm. Watching the play from the original angle, Benton had an argument to make, but the situation didn't call for any further conflict; Kentucky had the lead and momentum, McKinney knew it, and she made certain that Benton understood it, too.
[video width="2260" height="1166" mp4="https://kentuckysportsradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Robyn-bad-call-2.mp4"][/video]
Benton was frustrated, pounding her fists in the air in disgust with the call, knowing she'd likely be sent back to the bench. When it happened, she probably hated what McKinney did-- and would you blame her? She just had someone pinch her cheeks together while covering her mouth like a muzzle after being called for back-to-back tough fouls. But guess what? Sometimes you need that tough love to see the bigger picture. Because at the end of the day it's all still love
. And at the end of the game, Kentucky still won
McKinney just isn't afraid to be the person that takes charge with her leadership--no matter how unorthodox it might seem in the moment. Every great team requires
someone such as herself. She's completely bought into her role as the on-court leader, pushing aside the idea of stuffing the stat sheet. She only wants to stuff the win column.
But more importantly, her teammates trust her and understand that McKinney leads with good intentions. And at the same time, there's a good reason Benton didn't bark back at her. There's a mutual level of respect between McKinney and her teammates that says if you step out of line, I will straighten you out
, and that can be hard to come by in high-level competition.
"I was just trying to encourage her to calm down and get back in it because we were winning and we didn't need anything to affect that," McKinney added. "So, I was basically just calming her down because she was just going, and sometimes you've just got to get it. But, we are all comfortable enough to where you can do things like that
After the game, head coach Kyra Elzy
praised McKinney for her leadership during that tense moment.
"I actually missed it during the game, however, I watched the video and I loved it because they love each other and that's one thing I love about this team," Elzy said. "We have great team chemistry. They are sisters, they love each other, and they want to make sure that we're holding each other accountable
, which is one of our winning attributes. So, kudos to KeKe, she is a leader of our team. You know, I've talked to them about not talking to the referees and making sure we stay focused on the job that we need to do, so I'm glad that KeKe reeled her back in and held her accountable."
McKinney is as invaluable as any player on the Wildcat roster--yes, including Rhyne Howard
--even if her scoring averages (6.5 points per game this season) don't pop off the page. What she brings to the table is impossible to calculate through raw numbers. But if you want to try, you can point to her 246 total minutes and 30.8 minutes per game through nine games this year, both second-highest on the team, as figures that help define her role.
If her tactics keep leading to wins, I don't think her teammates will have many qualms.