Norman Powell has become UCLA's "defensive stopper"… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Norman Powell watches from the bench, taking mental notes.
UCLA has other players who can fill up the basket. Powell, a guard, stops opponents from doing the same.
"I watch the intensity, how we're playing," he says. "I enter and do the high-energy things."
Forward David Wear is another reserve who knows his role. It's the same as that of Travis, his twin brother who starts.
"I'm watching the pace, the way the refs are calling the game," says Wear, a junior. "I figure out how I'll guard guys."
Powell and Wear have about five minutes at the start of each game to study. Then they are called upon.
This is UCLA's bench, the thin powder-blue line. Cameo appearances from freshman center Tony Parker aside, UCLA's depth starts and ends with Powell and Wear.
Both were vital cogs last week when the Bruins swept Washington and Washington State. The consecutive victories left UCLA (18-6 overall, 8-3 in Pac-12 play) tied for first place heading into Thursday night's game at California (14-9, 6-5).
"We don't use very many guys, so everyone's minutes are magnified," Travis Wear said. "Those guys are capable of having great games any time they come in."
What defines a great game can change.
For Powell, it can mean smothering opponents, as he did when the Bruins beat California, 79-65, in January. Bears guard Allen Crabbe, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, had 21 points in that game, but Powell's handiwork helped hold him to five in the first half.
Teammates know how it goes. "Norm is really frustrating to compete against in practice," freshman guard Kyle Anderson says.
David Wear is a 6-foot-10 bookend to his brother. They form UCLA's inside presence. David Wear made a bad situation a little better with seven rebounds against Washington, meaning the Bruins were only outrebounded by 10 in the game.
"I know he's going to go to the glass every time, and that makes it easier on me," Travis Wear said.
Powell and David Wear adjusted this season with the arrival in Westwood of the nation's No. 2 recruiting class.
Powell offers a specific skill: "Norman comes in and can be that defensive stopper," Coach Ben Howland says.
It's not a role that fulfills boyhood dreams.
"Everyone wants to be the man," says Powell, who averages 6.8 points. "As a kid, you don't go to the park and work on defensive slides."
But Powell relishes the chore.
"That kicked in when I first got here," he says. "Defense got me on the court. I take pride in it."
Washington State guard DeVonte Lacy found that out, getting a mouthful of basketball when he put up a shot Saturday. Powell also had seven points against the Cougars — showing his versatility with a three-point basket, a burst through the lane for a layup and a dunk off a pass from Jordan Adams.
"I want Norman to run the floor and use his athleticism," Howland says.
As for David Wear, "He gives us toughness," Howland says.
The Wear twins transferred to UCLA from North Carolina after the 2010 season. David averaged 10.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds while starting 30 games last season. His reduced role has not made him less effective.
He had 16 points, making all seven of his shots, in a victory over then-No. 7-ranked Missouri. And when Travis suffered a concussion against then-No. 6 Arizona, David filled the void, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds.
"I have to be that spark," says David, who averages 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds. "I can't come in flat. That could affect the whole team."
Powell and Wear become more vital as the Bruins move forward.
Says Wear: "Once you get down to tournament play, where you're playing back-to-back games, your bench has an even bigger impact."