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I look at a game like Prairie View A&M on Dec. 14 in Los Angeles—preceding the all-out brawl against Duke at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19—and am certain the Panthers will be clubbed.
But while there is essentially a zero chance, both statistically and physically, that Prairie View wins the game, UCLA could be affected one way or the other by the interaction.
The Bruins could either play badly or they could play exceptionally well. Of the two I prefer badly; at least semi-badly. I've learned it can be emotionally dangerous to trust a college team coming off a drubbing of a decidedly inferior opponent. The reason being a win like that inspires overconfidence and an inflated sense of potency.
So while Prairie View is not a trap game in the traditional sense—a place to lose in humiliating, demoralizing fashion—it is a game that could send UCLA into a low-energy, complacent week of practice leading into the trip to New York City.
If UCLA did play badly against Prairie View, I think they would win by anywhere from 12-15 points in the end. In that case, I would know they would arrive under the bright, Broadway lights ready to scrap with the Blue Devils. In my experience there is nothing better for improving the performance of high-end competitive athletes than being embarrassed at what they are supposed to do best.
On the other hand, if the Bruins played well against Prairie View, winning by anywhere from 20-40 points, there could be two outcomes depending on how early coach Steve Alford dipped deep into the bench.
In one scenario, UCLA would take the floor at the Mecca and play sluggishly, like a hungover West Coast team that could not get its bearings out East and felt it was better than it had any right to feel. Being the stiffest preseason test on the schedule, and tipped at a reasonable enough hour for all college basketball fans to watch, this would be a discouraging step back.
The fan base would turn putrid and begin throwing ugly sobriquets and descriptions across social media. The lads over at Bruins Nation would psychoanalyze the roster from tip-to-tail in a desperate search for answers. The coach would be called the wrong coach, the program described as set back a generation at the very least, this year described as probably a "lost season" despite it being only December.
But in the second scenario, with UCLA playing moderate-to-poor basketball against Prairie View, it would set off the poison pill dominoes a week early. The lads at Bruins Nation would psychoanalyze the roster from tip-to-tail, and wonder if anyone there—including the coaches they never wanted in the first place—had any business at all even looking at the four letters, let alone wearing them across their chests.
It would be called the worst performance in anyone's lifetime and a new low for a proud program once again let down by its coaches and athletics administration. Morale in certain quarters would fall into deep trenches.
Following that debacle though, I would expect the team, with solid leadership beginning with Kyle Anderson and broadcasting downward, to practice with the focus of a special forces unit being sent cross country to engage the enemy in a non-lethal but graded scrimmage. As I said prior to this, of these options I prefer the second.