Marcus Johnson stutter-stepped, cut to his left, flung himself forward and . . . ba-boom, threw down a dunk that sent the USC student section into a finals-are-over type frenzy.
You could almost see the gleam in Coach Tim Floyd's eyes.
Donte Smith stutter-stepped, cut through the key, went to the hoop and . . . put up an airball, on a layup, sucking some of the air out of the Galen Center.
You could almost feel Floyd cringe.
Both plays took place during Thursday night's victory over Stanford. And both are representative of the life-and-depth situation USC faces these days.
The Trojans are one game out of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference heading into tonight's game against California. But Floyd will need contributions from his reserves through the grind of conference play for USC to stay in contention.
The Trojans' depth has been hit and miss all season, and an issue of increasing importance in the later stages of the season.
"It's important to every team," Floyd said. "The X-factor in developing a bench is that almost every game we have played has been close. You have to rely on guys you can trust in certain situations."
Floyd is trying to expand that circle of trust.
Johnson has provided quality play of late, averaging eight points in the last three games and making key baskets in two victories. Nikola Vucevic showed up with eight points and five rebounds last week in a 46-44 victory over Washington State.
But while many teams long ago settled into a playing rotation, Floyd has been required to continue tinkering.
The Trojans hoped to have post man Alex Stephenson available, but his request for immediate eligibility after transferring from North Carolina was denied by the NCAA. Kasey Cunningham appeared ready to be a key contributor, then sustained a serious knee injury. Leonard Washington and Marcus Simmons have both missed time because of ankle injuries. Smith has yet to shake off the cobwebs from a year without basketball.
That has left USC with four starters serving extended duty. Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis are averaging 38 minutes a game in conference play, while Taj Gibson averages 34 and DeMar DeRozan 32.
Floyd spins the glass as half full.
"I think it will be positive in one respect, as the endurance has been a factor," Floyd said. "They are used to playing longer minutes.
"The downside is what happens if one of those guys goes down."
The downside nearly arrived threefold this week. Gibson came down with pneumonia. Hackett had flu. Lewis had missed two games because of a sprained ankle. But they all played against Stanford, with Gibson going 38 minutes and Hackett and Lewis each logging 37 in a 70-69 victory.
Those minutes may catch up to USC in the conference tournament, where teams have to win a minimum of three games in three days to win the title.
Depth is most vital in the backcourt, especially behind Hackett at point guard. Smith was ticketed to be the guy, but he has struggled after sitting out a year while attending Mt. San Antonio College.
"We really need to get Daniel some relief," Floyd said. "That's why we continue to hope for Donte Smith's development."
Smith played two minutes against Stanford, entering with the score tied and leaving with a six-point lead even though he missed two shots.
Johnson had to sit out 11 games after transferring from Connecticut and his performance has been spotty. But his seven points were vital against Washington State, tying the score with a three-point play, then putting USC ahead to stay with a spin move and layup in the last minute.
Johnson had nine points -- with three dunks -- against Stanford. He put the Trojans ahead for good with a dunk and scored seven points in the last 11 minutes.
"I'm making adjustments a little bit quicker," he said. "Coach trusts me a little more on the court. I'm playing basketball out there now and thinking a little less."
Vucevic, a freshman, also came up big in the Washington State game, playing 30 minutes and making four of five shots, three coming on offensive rebounds.
"My job as a freshman is not to go out and score 20 points and be a leader," he said. "We have five players who have been here a long time. I just have to come off the bench, play defense, rebound and score when I can."
Oh, it sounds easy.