Norman Powell watched two defenders hedge a screen and thought he saw a hole.
He jabbed right, then took the ball behind his back, dribbled forward through his legs, and split the defenders. In three steps, he bounded to the basket, cocked his arm, threw down a slam and screamed.
"I knew that they really liked to hedge on screens, and I saw a slight opening, and the rest was just instincts," Powell said.
"That's Norman," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. "He's 'SportsCenter.'"
It was, in fact, a near lock for a 'SportsCenter' top play, and it served as an unofficial announcement: UCLA is surging late in the Pac-12 season. The Bruins' 72-63 win over Oregon on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, their fifth in six games, completed a sweep of the Oregon teams on the homestand and bumped the Bruins to a tie with the Ducks for third place in the conference.
Most NCAA tournament projections forecast both UCLA (16-10, and 8-5 in Pac-12) and Oregon (18-8, 8-5) as bubble teams. The Ducks rolled at home earlier in the season, but now the Bruins have the final word.
"That's a huge win," Alford said.
Alford said he sensed a shift in the team, a renewed confidence, about two or three weeks ago. There was a spark before then, he said, but it was interrupted by Tony Parker's injury, which held him out of losses to Oregon State and Oregon.
With Parker back, Powell has thrived. He has scored 20 points or more in five of the past seven games. Against Oregon, he scored 23 with five rebounds.
"We're just playing better basketball," Parker said
The Bruins opened the game with perhaps their best short stretch of the season. In 2 minutes and 11 seconds, they made two three-pointers, Parker had two emphatic blocks, and they led 10-2. Oregon called a timeout, and UCLA swaggered to the bench.
The Ducks tightened the gap and took the lead after an 18-4 run, and Jalil Abdul-Bassit made five three-pointers in a row. He finished with 24 points to lead Oregon.
Oregon had also brutalized UCLA on the perimeter in the first meeting. This time, leading by one at halftime, UCLA adjusted. Defenders, Alford said, were too quick to help, which left other shooters open.
Oregon made eight of 16 three-pointers in the first half but only three of 11 in the second, when the Ducks scored only 23 points.
Guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton played 40 minutes — Hamilton sat for a few seconds at the end of the first half. Steve Alford said he'd like to get both players more rest, but the game didn't allow him to take either one out.
Kevon Looney scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and made two of three three-point attempts. Looney has maintained the three-pointer can be a bigger part of his game. He has averaged just shy of a double-double in his freshman season, but he is just now finding his stroke on the perimeter.
"I wasn't in a great rhythm in the beginning of the season," Looney said. "I think I found it."
The Bruins have played their best six-game stretch of the season at the right time. The last trip of the regular season will also be the most important. They play Arizona State and Arizona next week. UCLA has only two road wins in the Pac-12.
"They've been through it now," Steve Alford said. "They've been through some of the wars."