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Calipari can't afford to sit Kidd-Gilchrist

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and six rebounds in UK's 86-64 victory over Lamar. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and six rebounds in UK's 86-64 victory over Lamar. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
John Calipari is steadfast in enforcing his rule of sitting a player who picks up two early fouls for the balance of the first half. Superstar or role player, Calipari refuses to put anyone in a position to pick up a third foul before halftime, regardless of the situation.

Isn't there a saying about every rule being made to be broken?

For the third game in a row, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist picked up his second foul early and, for the third game in a row, Calipari reinserted him into the lineup with those two fouls.

"Normally when a guy gets two fouls, I will not play him the rest of the half," Calipari said. "The problem with this team is you need his toughness so bad, that I ended up shoving him back in there."

Kidd-Gilchrist is anything but a normal player, so much so that Calipari simply isn't comfortable enough to allow his team to play without him for an extended stretch to follow his own rule. His energy, effort and intensity set the tone for his teammates and belie the fact that he's the youngest player on the roster.

Things were no different in an 86-64 win over the visiting Lamar Cardinals in front of the second-largest Rupp Arena crowd of the season. Kidd-Gilchrist tallied 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in spite of being limited due to those early fouls.

Calipari's gambit of playing Kidd-Gilchrist with two fouls ended up paying off, as he managed to make it through seven first-half minutes without picking up a third foul. The forward scored eight points in the opening stanza as held a 44-28 advantage at the half and Kidd-Gilchrist is flattered that Calipari views him as so important that he's willing to put him back on the floor.

"I'm just getting better and better on the court, so he needs me out there," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I think that's the reason he puts me back in."

It was the third straight time Calipari trusted Kidd-Gilchrist to play through first-half foul trouble, but that doesn't mean the freshman wants to continue the trend. When he committed his second foul with 15:55 left in the first half, he knew the reaction from his coach that was awaiting him as he strode to the bench.

"I was like, 'Dang man, I'm about to get it,' " Kidd-Gilchrist said. "But I deserved it."

Against an opponent like the one UK will face on Saturday in No. 4 Louisville, Calipari isn't likely to allow Kidd-Gilchrist to play through foul trouble, which is what he harped on when he greeted him on the sideline.

"I got all over Michael," Calipari said. " 'This is like the fifth or sixth game you've gotten two fouls in the first half. In a normal game, I can't play you the rest of the half, and you know what, we have got a problem now.' "

Calipari's message may have been a simple one, but his advice isn't exactly easy to follow. Kidd-Gilchrist makes his living on the floor based on his aggression, so walking the line between that and recklessness is tough. Senior guard Darius Miller has matched up against Kidd-Gilchrist in practice from day one, so he can understand the struggle. The last thing he wants to happen is for Kidd-Gilchrist to allow the fouls to get in his head and affect how he plays.

"I think it's just how he plays," Miller said when asked about his foul problems. "He plays 110-percent all the time and you can't fault him for that. Maybe he got a few questionable calls, I don't know. I don't know what it was, but we need him to continue playing like that and continue to play aggressive. That does a lot for our team and it's a big part of our team."

If Kidd-Gilchrist hadn't brought his trademark intensity, Calipari shudders to think what may have happened on Wednesday night. Lamar battled Kentucky to a 36-36 tie on the glass even though Kidd-Gilchrist had six second-half rebounds and Anthony Davis had 13 for the game.

"What bothered me is they had 14 offensive rebounds," Calipari said. "And what we are doing right now, unless Michael gets the ball or Anthony gets the ball, we are not getting the ball.  We have other guys that are flinching going after balls, or ducking, or hoping Anthony or Mike will get it."

Even with the Louisville game looming on Saturday, Calipari wouldn't use the excuse that his team was looking ahead.

"This is who we are," Calipari said. "This is who we are, and this is what happens to us, especially when we break down and stop playing. We did it against Samford, we did it here and we have done it and we are not changing and that's what's frustrating for me."

On Saturday and beyond as UK approaches Southeastern Conference play, the time will come when Kidd-Gilchrist's heroics won't be able to overcome deficiencies in other areas or when fouls will get the best of him, so it's high time that the Cats begin to respond to Calipari's prodding.

"We either cure this or we are going to start taking (losses)," Calipari said. "You start taking on water, and when you do start taking on water and you start getting the deer in the headlights look, and now every game becomes a war. Or you can get better, and you can look at this and take responsibility and say, 'I know how I've got to play and I'm going to do it. I'm going to prepare that way.' "

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