Top-ranked North Carolina began this weekend by squeaking past Portland and losing to Iowa State in its first encounter with a tough defense.
Meanwhile, No. 18 Alabama began the weekend by defending well enough to get past Michigan State before being unable to stop the size of 20th-ranked UConn,falling 82-67.
Friday's rough showings resulted in both schools taking their first loss and the Tar Heels and Crimson Tide are hoping to avoid a second defeat Sunday when they oppose each other in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
"If we lose to North Carolina, which is obviously very possible -- they're the No. 1 team in the country -- you leave out of here 1-2 and you're not feeling very good about yourself after the win over Michigan State and you're on a two-game losing streak," Alabama coach Nate Oats said.
"And North Carolina's saying the same thing. They didn't come here as the No. 1 team in the country to leave out of here 1-2 on a two-game losing streak. So we're both in a spot. I don't know if you can have a must-win game in college basketball in November, early December, but it's a big game that we'd both like to get because after this, we have a week off where we don't play."
North Carolina (5-1) heads into the meeting coming off a 70-65 loss to Iowa State, which likely will make the next top 25 poll. In a game they trailed for only 7:56, the Tar Heels committed 14 turnovers, misfired on 15 of 18 3-point tries and blew a seven-point lead in the final 3:55.
"We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn't make those shots," North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.
That included a rough final 5:43 when the Tar Heels were outscored 21-8 and ended by missing four of its final six shots and committing four turnovers.
R.J. Davis led North Carolina with 15 points but was 5-for-14 and is 9-for-25 in the two games in this event. Leading scorer Caleb Love was held to 12 after getting 23 in the opening contest against Portland, and Armando Bacot committed five turnovers.
"We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can't do that in late-game situations," R.J. Davis said. "You have to be sound and disciplined and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn't do it."
Meanwhile Alabama (5-1) opened the event by holding Michigan State to 38.7 percent shooting but allowed UConn to shoot 43.3 percent while giving up 25 points to standout UConn big man Adama Sanogo.
The Crimson Tide also faced an uphill climb most of the way due to their inability to control the ball. Alabama committed 16 of its 21 turnovers by halftime, including five on its first seven possessions.
"First half, turnovers killed us," Oats said. "We did a good job, I thought we showed fight, getting back and tying the game up a couple different times in the second half, and we just fouled too much."
Freshman Brandon Miller, who is averaging 20.5 points, led the Crimson Tide with 18 points but second-leading scorer Mark Sears was held to eight and is 5-of-18 from the field in the event.
--Field Level Media