Before the Arizona Wildcats embarrassed his team 90-42 Sunday at McKale Center, Idaho State coach Joe O'Brien had a little chat with UA coach Sean Miller.

"You have Arizona back where the fans expect you to be," O'Brien said he told Miller, laughing as he recalled the conversation. "And I'm not coming back."

After the Wildcats kept the Bengals scoreless for nearly 13 minutes over the late first half and early second half of their season opener, turning a 17-15 game into what O'Brien called "a kabillion to 15," those words looked downright prescient.

But whether the Wildcats are really back can't be measured yet. The Bengals are one of Division I's weakest teams, adding 10 new players to a team that finished last season 7-22, with a dreadful 309 RPI.

So it may not be known who the Wildcats really are until they play Thursday against New Mexico State and Nov. 27 against Kansas and head into the Pac-10 season, chasing a return to the NCAA tournament.

For now, what the Wildcats do know is that something has changed for the better.

In Miller's first season with Arizona, the Wildcats lost five home games, never cleared their bench, and made a lot of perimeter scorers look really, really good at McKale Center, no matter how mediocre the opposition was overall.

Maybe you remember guys such as NAU's Cameron Jones (29 points), UNLV's Tre'Von Willis (25), Louisiana Tech's Kyle Gibson (25) and, of course, BYU's Jimmer Fredette (49).

But on Sunday, when Bengals guard Broderick Gilchrest strolled into McKale Center coming off a 39-point effort at Colorado on Friday … he went 1 for 9 and scored only four points.

As it turned out, Gilchrest hit fewer three-pointers (0) than did UA walk-on Max Wiepking (1), who didn't get to play in a game all of last season.

"The leading scorer who came in here a year ago really had his way," Miller said. "It was good to establish that we were able to do that against him. As a team, we did a great job."

The Wildcats not only went at Gilchrest, but they also kept up their defensive intensity against everybody until the final minutes, when Miller emptied the bench. They held Idaho State to 28.1 percent shooting, allowed just 1 of 12 three-point attempts to fall in, and beat up the Bengals on the boards 39-24.

Offensively, Arizona shot 59.6 percent from the field and set up 22 of its 31 field goals with assists, flowing smoothly yet never letting up.

"I think we looked at the exhibition game and watched a lot of film, and the guys caught on," said forward Solomon Hill about UA's 70-59 win over Augustana a week earlier. "It was about keeping our foot on the gas."

Hill said it was also about sending a message to opponents.

"It shouldn't be easy to play in McKale," Hill said.

No doubt, that's exactly the mentality Miller is trying to mold, having spoken constantly about restoring the pride and success to a program that has skidded through years of instability.

"I talk a lot about the tradition," Miller said. "We have great tradition. We have a great crowd and a great home court. Last year we lost five games and we don't want to do that this year."

The Wildcats' biggest struggle came early on, when Idaho State center Deividas Busma scored 12 points over the first nine minutes, matching Derrick Williams' typically crafty efforts on the other end. Busma and Williams tied for game-high scoring honors, with 16 points each.

"We need to get some hands on the entry passes," Hill said. "Once it's in there, we need to make (Busma) pull it back out, but he was knocking down turnaround jumpers."

But at the 7:57 mark, Busma was gone, having picked up his third foul. The Bengals were all but done.

"That killed us," O'Brien said. "Deividas was our offense in the first half. At that point, I had no options."

Arizona led just 23-15 when Busma left for the rest of the first half, but extended that into a 30-point lead before Gilchrest made a layup at 18:04 of the second half.

Even when Busma returned after halftime, it was too late. He and the Bengals had zero swagger, instead being toyed with by the Wildcats throughout the half.

Jones set up the evening highlight reel with 15:39 left when he hit Williams for a highlight-reel left-handed alley-oop jam to make it 53-18. Six minutes later Miller inserted 12th man Daniel Bejarano, who later made a high-arcing three-pointer on his first try.

In the final minutes, Miller then cleared his entire bench for the first time ever at Arizona: Wiepking, Dondre Wise and Robert Arvizu all hit the floor, prompting the kind of late-game giddiness that used to be common at so many McKale Center games for so many years.

"Hopefully that will happen a couple more times," Miller said, smiling. "It makes life easy."

Up next

• Who: New Mexico State at Arizona

• When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)