Alabama had its chance to be the bully Monday night when it dominated Notre Dame on the football field, 42-14, to win the BCS National Championship Game.
Tuesday night on the basketball court, it was the Crimson Tide playing the role of Notre Dame football, falling to No. 10 Missouri, 84-68, at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.
Alabama, fighting for a quality win in the comparably weak SEC, started the game 2-of-11 from the floor and fell behind by 10 points.
But coach Anthony Grant dialed up the pressure on Missouri’s catalyst, point guard Phil Pressey, and slowed the Tigers’ transition game. By attacking Pressey with double teams defensively, the Crimson Tide forced turnovers and used those stops to rip off a 12-0 and take the lead by three points with 7:08 remaining in the first.
Where Pressey has been Missouri’s distributor, Alabama point guard Trevor Releford led the scoring charge Tuesday night.
His 19 first-half points carried the Alabama attack, but his backcourt counterpart Trevor Lacey went scoreless in the first half.
Lacey was hot in the second half by scoring nine points, but Missouri used a 9-3 run in the middle of the half to extend the lead to double digits.
Pressey found his usual comfort zone after a shaky spell for part of the first half, getting into the lane and finishing with 11 points and 13 assists.
Jabari Brown was hot from three-point range. He finished with a career-high 22 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three. Laurence Bowers was another major beneficiary of Pressey’s dribble penetration, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-8 from the field.
On the injury front, Bowers left the game limping in the second half and coach Frank Haith reportedly announced postgame that the senior would undergo an MRI tomorrow. Haith expressed concern that Bowers could have an MCL sprain in his right knee. The senior has had a strong 2012-13 so far after recovering from major surgery on his left knee that kept him out for the entire 2011-12 season.
Looking at Alabama’s schedule, the Tide really only have two more marquee matchups in the regular season: Jan. 22 against Kentucky and March 2 against No. 11 Florida.
By missing out on a chance to notch a big road win Tuesday, any NCAA tournament hopes get dimmer for Alabama. An 8-5 non-conference schedule with losses to Tulane and Mercer, combined with a conference slate devoid of a signature win typically doesn’t translate into an NCAA tournament bid.
It’s not out of the question that only three SEC teams make the NCAA tournament. Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri should be in the field of 68, if all goes as planned, but it drops off noticeably after that.
Ole Miss could be in the mix, though their two losses came to Indiana State and Middle Tennessee. Arkansas lost all four non-conference games that could have been quality wins (Syracuse, Michigan, Arizona State, Wisconsin). LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M.
Who else could emerge and punch a ticket to the tournament?