For $20,000, Arizona lured Division II power Chico State back to play an exhibition game at McKale Center for the third straight season on Sunday.

Usually, it’s a bargain. For less than one-quarter of what UA typically pays a regular-season opponent, Chico is good enough to expose a few Arizona weaknesses, preparing the Wildcats for the regular season better than an everyday practice could.

Last season, that was exactly how it worked out. UA hung on for a 78-70 win, then edged No. 12 Michigan State five days later in its season opener.

This season, even as Chico State returns four starters and has a chance to win a D-II title, well … let’s just say Arizona is ready for the regular-season opener Friday against NAU.

Arizona won 91-53 before 13,865 fans and displayed no glaring weaknesses. In fact, video of the game might become downright terrifying for future opponents.

Like, how does anybody guard Deandre Ayton? The UA’s mind-numbingly skilled big man not only had 21 points but deftly passed the ball out of traps in the post and tallied three assists, while also nailing a 3-pointer.

And, how does anyone throw off Allonzo Trier’s efficiency? The UA’s junior guard had 22 points, hitting 7 for 9 field goals, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, while making 5 of 7 free throws, dishing four assists to only one turnover and picking up three rebounds.

Will it help opponents if any of the Wildcats are out? Considering that key rotation players Brandon Randolph (concussion), Dylan Smith (unspecified team violation) and Rawle Alkins (broken foot) were missing Sunday …. um, probably not.

And even that old standard — playing zone defense against the Wildcats — might not work, either. UA saw some of that Sunday and still managed to shoot 65.3 percent overall while hitting 7 of 13 3-pointers.

“It’s just playing good basketball,” Trier said. “Trusting each other, making the extra pass, making the right reads, executing what coach wants out of us.”

And quickly digesting some video. Arizona struggled at times in a 91-63 win over a much less capable Eastern New Mexico team on Thursday, yet ironed out many of its troubles from that game even as Randolph went down with a concussion when he was hit in the head during a practice Saturday.

Miller said he’s unsure if Randolph will be able to return Friday for UA’s season opener against NAU – concussions usually require a minimum of a week’s rest before a player is cleared – but it will hardly matter if the Wildcats play as they did Sunday.

“We were able to watch film of the first game, and sometimes getting the nerves out of a team is a big deal,” Miller said. “We settled in and offensively that was an efficient as we’ve ever been. That (Chico) team returns a lot of players from a year ago. They had a great season a year ago and I think they’ll have another a great season.”

While Randolph joined Smith and Alkins on the bench, senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright returned to point guard after he missed the Eastern New Mexico game with a sprained ankle.

Instantly, PJC was a dose of efficiency into the heart of the UA offense: He had 14 points with 4 for 4 shooting, made both 3-pointers he took and dished four assists to no turnovers.

“Parker does a good job of setting the tone for us what we’re trying to execute, pushing the ball or getting us into certain sets,” Trier said. “He means everything to our team, being one of the older guys, a leader, and you can see how him coming back tonight took our team to bigger heights.”

Then there was Ayton, who put on a particularly eye-opening show in an 82-second stretch of the first half: First, he flipped the ball in the post to Keanu Pinder, who dunked. Then Ayton assisted Trier for a 3-pointer and, then hit his own 3-pointer on a pick-and-pop play with Jackson-Cartwrght firing back to him at the top of the key.

After the game, Ayton gave a confident shrug about how it all played out.

“They were doubling the post,” he said. “I just saw it coming from a mile away.”

Granted, Ayton is 7-foot-1, so his vision over guys is naturally pretty good. But he also has the ability to quickly assess what’s going on, and to skillfully get the ball to a better place if needed.

“You can’t take for granted Deandre’s ability to pass,” Miller said. “They elected to post-trap him and he looked like a 10-year NBA player with how poised he was at handling the double team, making the simple play, throwing a quick pass to the first open man.

“Even if his pass didn’t lead to the shot directly, it led to the ball moving around and probably created five or six just great shots for our team. For someone at the beginning of his freshman year, usually post traps and double teams can be a problem.

“I’ve said it time and time again about him it’s his intelligence that sets him apart more than anything. He’s got great ability and he knows what he’s doing and he makes his teammates better.”

So did freshman Emmanuel Akot, who started in place of Randolph and Alkins at small forward. Akot had six points, seven rebounds and six assists to two turnovers, finishing the exhibition play with a combined 12 assists to four turnovers.

UA had 21 assists for its 32 made shots and, as well as Jackson-Cartwright played in his return, he was only part of that togetherness.

“It wasn’t just one player,” Miller said.

That means NAU — and everyone else on UA’s schedule — may have a lot of work ahead.

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball