Norman Powell has played this season with a dislocated thumb and pinkie. He has bruised his hip but begged back into a game. His latest malady was an illness that kept him from practice earlier this week.
Yet Powell was in the lineup against No. 11 Utah on Thursday, and when he slashed to the basket and scored again midway through the second half, he could feel an unlikely win inching closer.
UCLA had lost by 32 this month against the Utes, one of a series of disappointments on the road in the Pac-12 Conference. After getting swept by Oregon State and Oregon last weekend, Powell had challenged his teammates' intensity.
Now, though, Powell put UCLA up by nine, and he threw his hands in the air, urging the crowd. Utah took a timeout, and Powell clapped and bounded to the bench.
UCLA (12-9 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-12) hadn't won against a ranked team all season, but Powell's energy, and his 23 points, carried the Bruins to a 69-59 victory. Previously, the Bruins had been outscored by more than 100 points in four games against ranked opponents.
Before this game, the coaching staff wrote the score from the blowout loss to Utah on the whiteboard.
"Soon as I walked in the locker room and see the score from the last game, 71-39, and it's something that's really embarrassing," Powell said. "We felt that."
After the Oregon trip, Powell said, the players had met to discuss how they could improve their intensity. So in the minutes before this game, Powell and Bryce Alford promised each other to bring extra energy at the start.
"That first four minutes, we tried to go crazy, just cause chaos," said Alford, who finished with 14 points.
Powell got the first basket of the game off a steal, and the energy was contagious. Alford dived into the announcers' table and Isaac Hamilton dived to the floor after loose balls. Later, Alford hustled to knock a ball loose on a break. Thomas Welsh threw down two emphatic dunks.
The Bruins held Utah (16-4, 6-2) scoreless for more than nine minutes, an effort that turned a one-point lead in the first half into a 15-point lead in the second. They forced 14 turnovers.
The return of Tony Parker from injury helped. On Tuesday, Coach Steve Alford had hoped he could get 10 minutes out of Parker, who had sat two games because of back spasms. He played 25.
Alford was more confident about Powell, who had a stomach illness Tuesday.
Since Powell arrived in Westwood four years ago, UCLA has been hoping to get the type of aggression he displayed Thursday. But his toughness has been proved this season.
On Tuesday, Steve Alford didn't yet know what ailed Powell, but he nevertheless declared, "He'll be ready to go," and no one was surprised when Powell was.
vs. Colorado, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion. TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 570 AM — Josh Scott, the Buffaloes' center who was picked to the preseason all-Pac-12 first team, won't be making the trip to Westwood. Scott has been out with a back injury for all of January, including Colorado's first game against UCLA.