KeKe McKinney has struggled from the three-point line all season for the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team. Entering Thursday’s matchup with LSU, the sophomore forward had made just eight of 31 shots from the perimeter.
So it’s no wonder McKinney wasn’t the first option on the play that decided the game. But the ball ended up in her hands anyway, and McKinney nailed a three-pointer from the left corner with 19 seconds left to break a tie and send the short-handed Wildcats to a 64-60 victory in Baton Rouge.
Coming off a tough loss to Mississippi last Sunday in a game that leading scorer Maci Morris missed because of a sore knee, the Cats took the court against the Tigers once again at less than full strength. Shortly before tip-off UK announced that starters Taylor Murray and Rhyne Howard were being held out because of injury. Morris returned to the lineup and helped the Cats jump out to a 21-5 lead in the first quarter, but LSU steadily whittled down UK’s advantage. The Tigers finally edged ahead, 56-54, late in the fourth quarter on Ayana Mitchell’s layup.
Moments later with the Cats leading by two, Mitchell scored again to tie the game at 60 with 45 seconds to play. Then came McKinney’s moment.
Jaida Roper, who started at point guard in place of Murray, drove the lane and kicked out to a wide open McKinney, who didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
“Last year I wouldn’t have hit that shot. But I was confident, and luckily it went in,” McKinney said on the UK Radio Network postgame show. “I was like, ‘boom girl, you did that.’ That’s what my reaction was.”
On the ensuing LSU possession, McKinney rebounded a missed shot then hit one of two free throws to ice the win.
UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said the Wildcats executed the game-winning play perfectly, even though McKinney wasn’t the first option.
“You can try and call something but they’re going to switch everything hard on the initial action ... you’ve got to read the situation,” Mitchell said. “The one thing we said was ‘do not shoot a contested shot’ ... that was beautiful. That was great, great execution.”
Mitchell hopes Thursday’s clutch shot can be a catalyst for McKinney going forward.
“I’m hoping that will boost her confidence,” said Mitchell. “That was a big-time shot at a big-time moment.”
McKinney, who finished with six points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, said the sting of Sunday’s narrow loss to Mississippi fueled the Cats on Thursday.
“We were hungry from last game,” she said. “We felt like we lost a game we shouldn’t have lost so we came in here hungry.”
Morris led Kentucky (16-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a pair of three-pointers, and added five rebounds and three steals. Roper was the only other Wildcat to hit double figures, scoring 10 points to go along with three assists. The Wildcats toppled the Tigers despite losing the rebound battle, 35-26, and matching LSU (11-6, 2-3 SEC) with 21 turnovers.
Mitchell gave all the credit to his players after the game, and said he looks forward to getting the Cats’ roster back to full strength and their play back to the level that saw them win six of seven games before last Sunday’s loss.
“You’ve got to put this one 1,000 percent on the shoulders of these players that just came in here and found a way,” Mitchell said. “You can’t give the players enough credit on this one.”
But, he added: “We’ve got to level this thing out ... it’s been an emotional roller coaster.”
Missouri at No. 16 Kentucky
6:30 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network)