The Bruins cannot afford another regular-season loss, but on this night they seemed distracted. In the morning, Tony Parker slept in and arrived late to the morning shoot-around.
Later, UCLA (18-12, 10-7 in the Pac-12 Conference) trailed by as many as seven points against a middling Washington State team.
"I think that the team kind of took it lightly," Powell admitted. So, he said, "Coach really got into us."
And for Powell, Alford had specific advice: start attacking.
UCLA never took over the game, but the halftime message worked, the Bruins grinding out a 72-67 win at Pauley Pavilion behind a career night from Powell.
The senior guard has gradually taken over more and more of the offense, and on Sunday he powered UCLA through the early malaise. He scored 28 points, a career high, and made 10 of 17 shots. He had a one-handed dunk that energized the crowd of 9,082. His defense helped stem the Cougars' momentum late.
After a quick start, the Bruins didn't retake the lead until a Parker dunk midway through the second half. And then Washington State (12-16, 6-10) lingered.
In the last minute, UCLA missed five free throws. The game wasn't decided until Kevon Looney rebounded a Washington State miss in the final seconds. Afterward, Powell held a fist in the air.
Looney said the team was too comfortable to start the game. The players, he said, "think it's a home game, think we automatically win, and we came out a little relaxed. They punched us right in the mouth."
The Bruins will trade style points for wins. Only one regular-season game remains, against last-place USC on Wednesday at Pauley.
The win Sunday moved them past Stanford into fourth place in the Pac-12. If they finish there, they would have a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Alford noted afterward that a win against the Trojans would make UCLA's Pac-12 record just one game worse than last season's, when it was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This team does not have the same nonconference success on its resume. But, Alford said, UCLA has played the toughest schedule in the Pac-12.
"Our guys know," Alford said. "We know what we got to do. We understand what we got to do. Our resume looks better as we get wins."
Alford pulled Tony Parker from the starting lineup for his tardiness. Thomas Welsh started in his place, and Parker entered more than five minutes into the game.
In the 26 minutes he did play, Parker was a force. He collected 15 points and 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. The Bruins outscored Washington State by 20 points in the paint.
Parker and Powell scored two-thirds of UCLA's points in the second half.
Powell matched his career high in the final minute, then had a pair of free throws with a chance to surpass it. That was on his mind, he said, when he stepped to the line. He missed the first one.
"Choked," Looney chided during the postgame news conference.
"I was just trying to win the game," Powell responded, and he smiled big.