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UCLA Basketball's Must Win Alabama Game

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It is more than getting the bad taste of the Kentucky game out of their mouths. The game at Alabama this Sunday is a must win for UCLA.

Tony Parker led UCLA to victory over Alabama last season.  This season UCLA desperately needs him to do so again.
Tony Parker led UCLA to victory over Alabama last season. This season UCLA desperately needs him to do so again.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season I commented in one of Chrissorr excellent previews:

I am not as optimistic about the season, starting with the Battle for Atlantis. I thinking we go 1-2 and maybe even 0-3. A team with no guard depth is not a good back-to- back-to-back tournament team.

And how do we bounce back if we lose three right before the PAC 12 starts and then the first two in the PAC 12? That is an easy point for a team to come apart. Especially if the team leader and coach's son is over-matched. I worry about free fall for any college team that loses five in a row in any sport.

It is Steve's job to the right the ship if that happens but let's just say I am bit worried. (The Alabama game may be huge. We win that one and we have some momentum for the PAC 12.)

The Alabama game is huge.  Let me spell why out below.

Tournament Resume

UCLA tournament resume is looking crappy right now.

According to the RPI as of Sunday night, Alabama is ranked 39 in RPI.  As of right now, UCLA's best win is over number 74 Long Beach State.  (UCLA is #93.)  In other words, a win over Alabama would give UCLA its only win over a potentially tournament worthy team in the non-conference season.

Of course, UCLA can always improve that resume by doing well in the PAC 12 which as of now has a number of highly ranked teams.  As of now, Arizona, Utah and Washington are all ranked higher in RPI than Alabama.  However, UCLA only plays Arizona (at Arizona) and Washington (at Pauley) once.

UCLA won't get many more bites at the apple this year for quality wins, so a win on the road against Alabama is very important for UCLA NCAA Tournament chances.

Tournament?!?

Of course talking about the NCAA tournament right now makes me think of Coach Mora.  Not UCLA's Coach Mora but his father's famous playoff speech.  "Playoffs, you kidding me, playoffs, I just hope we can win a game."  Sound too extreme?  Check out this tweet from Jack Wang on Ken Pom:

UCLA is predicted to lose its next three games.  I don't see the NCAA Tournament this season, unless we somehow start righting the ship at Alabama.

First Road Game

Yep.  UCLA is 1-3 in neutral court games, only beating UAB in the seventh place game at the Battle for Atlantis.  UCLA has not played an official road game this season.  The Alabama game will be the first.

While Chrissorr will do a preview and breakdown later on in the week, it is worth noting that Alabama is 7-0 at home this season and had almost 10,000 in attendance for a game against tiny Appalachian State.

How will the Bruins do traveling post-Christmas all the way to Alabama?

Three scenarios

A win of any kind gives UCLA some momentum and the ability to believe they can beat a solid Colorado team on the road on January 2.

A narrow loss probably does not hurt the psyches of the team too much regardless of what it does to the tournament chances.

A blowout loss could very well mean Steve Alford has lost the team.  We are looking at a meltdown in this case and again coming back to Mora senior forget the playoffs, we may be in danger of a losing record.  Things may begin to snowball with two more road losses to follow.  UCLA is looking like 8-7 before coming home to Pauley.  Will anyone show up for that game besides the students and uclaluv?  I know Guerrero won't.

Must Win?

To make the NCAA tournament the Alabama game and the Utah game the following Sunday may be must win games.  If UCLA does not win either of those games (and assuming it does not beat Arizona on the road), UCLA will not have a quality win at a neutral site or on the road for the season.  Even wins against UW (assuming they are for real) and Utah at home may not be enough to make up for all the other failures.

However, I don't think this is a tournament team.  The bigger issue is a meltdown.  Will this team become what it has been in the second halves of the last four games, the three guards jacking up shots and playing for themselves?  Will it cease to be a team and just become a collection of players?  That is certainly possible now.

Ironically, last year against Alabama, Bryce almost cost UCLA the game and Tony Parker won the game.  Will UCLA continue to use Parker and now Looney or will the guards make it all about them?

Bottom line

I have been saying this is an important game  from day one.  I see no reason to change that statement now.  However, in light of recent events, how the team plays will be almost as important as the win or loss.  UCLA needs to make a good showing for themselves.