Norman Powell couldn’t hide a smirk on Sunday when he was asked if he knew the significance of his final free throws against Washington State.
When he stepped to the line, he had 27 points. One more would be a career high. Did he know?
“Yeah,” Powell said with a grin. “I did.”
Powell, the senior guard, made one of two to set a high mark. He is playing his best basketball at a crucial time for UCLA. On Monday, he received recognition. The Pac-12 named him the player of the week for the third time this season.
He averaged 26 points and 5.5 rebounds in the Bruins' two games, and he shot nearly 62% from the field.
Whether UCLA qualifies for the NCAA tournament remains to be seen, but Powell is a major reason the Bruins are in the conversation at all.
Last season, Powell was a role player. But he has emerged as a leader for a young UCLA team this season. On Sunday, in a close game against the Cougars, he played all 40 minutes.
“Last year, he was anywhere from a 22-to-26-minute guy, and we really couldn’t play him more than that because he would have lapses,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “He’s learned how to play hard even in a game like this where I couldn’t get him a blow.”
UCLA appeared lethargic for much of the game on Sunday, but Powell took over late. He began attacking the basket. His defensive intensity picked up.
“The energy that I provide fuels throughout the team,” Powell said.
And it has kept UCLA alive as it nears the final game of the regular season.