A familiar dread swept over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist less than five minutes into Kentucky's 86-64 win over Lamar on Wednesday night.
With 15:55 to go in the first half, Kidd-Gilchrist picked up his second foul. Slowly, he turned toward the Kentucky bench to leave the game and face Kentucky head coach John Calipari. An assault of censure awaited him when he left the game.
"I was like 'Man, I'm about to get it'" Kidd-Gilchrist said. "But I deserved it."
It was a lecture he's been getting used to. Wednesday marked the third consecutive game in which Kidd-Gilchrist has picked up two fouls in the first half. In Kentucky's win over Loyola-Maryland on Dec. 22, Kidd-Gilchrist was called for two fouls in the first 3:17.
"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."
Gilchrist finished the first half with just seven minutes, and had 10 minutes in the first half against Loyola-Maryland. But the fact that Calipari was willing to re-insert Kidd-Gilchrist with a pair of early fouls is a testament to his value to the team and his discipline.
Kidd-Gilchrist has taken note of the issue, and he's been working in practice to find ways to avoid fouls. At times, he's been successful. He didn't pick up another foul in the win over Lamar despite playing 19 minutes in the second half.
But there have been times when he's struggled to dial back his aggressive play. He fouled out in the win over Loyola-Maryland. He has 32 fouls on the season, the most of any Kentucky player.
"I'm trying my best not to foul," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I don't know."
It's difficult for Kidd-Gilchrist to change his approach after picking up a pair of early fouls. For a player whose game is so predicated on attacking defensively, finding a more controlled style of play is a major adjustment.
"It's just how he plays," senior guard Darius Miller said. "He plays 110 percent all the time. You can't fault him for that. We need him to continue to play aggressive. That does a lot for our team."
Kidd-Gilchrist's foul trouble hasn't necessarily hurt his production. He led Kentucky with 18 points on 5-6 shooting while adding six rebounds and four assists against Lamar. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists against Loyola-Maryland.
But Calipari's message remains clear: The Wildcats need as much as Kidd-Gilchrist can give them. Without him on the floor, Kentucky becomes a vastly different team. And when he picks up a pair of early fouls, it becomes all but impossible for Calipari to keep Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor for extended minutes.
"I just have to calm down," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Moments after Kidd-Gilchrist went to the bench, Lamar went on a brief 7-1 run to pull within two points of Kentucky early.
That's just one reason why Calipari is working so hard to let Kidd-Gilchrist know why it's important he stays on the floor. Without Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats lose a chunk of their toughness and identity.
"The energy he brings and his rebounding for us," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "He guards the best player every game, so we miss him a lot when he comes out.
"We need him on the floor."