However happy the new year, Kentucky's old year ended with a get-real test of muscle, sweat, willpower and nerve.
In other words, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's kind of game.
Highlights were at a premium as archrivals Kentucky and Louisville dug deep on Saturday.
Though freshman-dependent, UK prevailed 69-62 in a game that saw the teams combine for 52 fouls, 70 free-throw attempts and two technical fouls.
"That's my game right there," Kidd-Gilchist said of a competition that was much more steak than sizzle. "... I love physical games."
Kidd-Gilchrist, who earlier this season simply cited "I'm from Jersey" to explain his grit, doubled down against a U of L team that showed the kind of zeal that thrilled fans in Rupp Arena when Rick Pitino coached for Kentucky. In the final five seconds, U of L got a pair of three-pointers from Russ Smith and forced a turnover on a UK inbound.
Meanwhile, Kidd-Gilchrist was everywhere in a 39-minute stint. He scored a career-high 24 points and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds, the latter one shy of a Rupp Arena record.
"He wasn't as bothered as much as some of the other players by the physical play," UK Coach John Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist. "He almost relished it and just went after it. And that's why he played the way he did."
Kentucky (13-1) won despite shooting its worst percentage in Calipari's three seasons as coach: 29.8. The previous low was 33.9 percent against Connecticut in the 2011 Final Four.
But it wasn't a day for sharp-shooting, befitting a game with two top-10 ranked defenses; UK No. 1 in field-goal percentage defense and U of L No. 6.
When asked how New Jersey explained his relentless, yet-controlled play, Kidd-Gilchrist spoke of the hardships he and his family have endured.
"We all struggled," he said. "Moms. Me. My father wasn't here. And my uncle left me."
Kidd-Gilchrist, his hyphenated name a tribute to his late uncle (Darrin Kidd) and father (Michael Gilchrist Sr.), showed a tender side in post-game interviews as he noted how his mother, Cynthia Richardson, attended the game and is in good health.
His lower lip quivered as he spoke of spending Friday night with his mother. "She's the world to me," he said. He also recalled seeing her in a hospital bed during a holiday visit home.
"It was very hard to see my mother there," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I was crying my eyes out that night. That's life right there. That's no game."
When a reporter suggested that basketball served as an escape, Kidd-Gilchrist objected.
"That's no escape," he said. "That's my mother. I can't escape that."
UK and U of L made up for a lack of artistry with plenty of effort. By halftime, UK led 36-33.
Kentucky limited Louisville to seven baskets in the first 15 minutes. Led by Kidd-Gilchrist, UK steadily pulled away. The zenith came with 5:09 left when his layup put the Cats ahead 31-16.
This cushion made it easier to forget that Anthony Davis went to the bench with his second foul at the 12:29 mark.
Louisville rallied down the stretch, reeling off 13 straight points. The Cards' only three-pointer of the half helped narrow UK's lead to 31-29.
The struggle continued into the second half.
With Louisville turning up the press and half-court traps, Calipari picked up a technical foul at the 16:02 mark. The technical came after U of L trapped Doron Lamb a foot or so from where Calipari stood.
Although Louisville already had seven team fouls, the crowd screamed at a perceived injustice that the referees had not called more fouls. "I thought we could have had more (free-throw attempts)," said Calipari, which caused reporters to laugh.
Louisville, which had trailed since 48 seconds after the opening tip, finally caught up with 15:23 left. An unusual four-point play did it. Russ Smith hit a three-pointer from the left corner while being fouled by Kidd-Gilchrist. That tied it at 40.
Kidd-Gilchrist broke the tie with a free throw, then hit a driving shot that started a 7-0 mini run which gave Kentucky a lead to nurse to the finish.
To explain his 19 rebounds, Kidd-Gilchrist cited the need created by Davis' foul trouble. "So I just had to man up," he said.
As for his full-court contributions, Kidd-Gilchrist said it had nothing to do with the inspiration of the UK-U of L rivalry. He was just playing basketball the way he plays.
"I don't know anything about this rivalry," he said. "It doesn't mean anything to me. I just wanted to win the basketball game, to tell you the truth."