With Brandon Randolph missing Sunday’s exhibition with a concussion, the Arizona Wildcats were down not one, or even two, but three players on the wing against Chico State.
It hardly affected them, as they shot 65 percent from the field in a 91-53 win.
“We’re young kids playing basketball,” said UA guard Allonzo Trier. “All we’re thinking is we’re about to go out here and hoop again. We’re not thinking that deep about (our depth).”
Trier had 22 points on 7-9 shooting, a far better performance than the 10-point outing he posted Wednesday vs. Eastern New Mexico.
“I thought I played OK,” Trier said. “I feel like I’m getting back to myself. The more basketball I play — I’m kind of a rhythm guy — so the more basketball I play, the better I’ll play."
Sean Miller thought Arizona handled Chico State’s zone defense “very well.” Last year, that wasn’t exactly the case, as Arizona squeaked past CSU 78-70 in McKale.
“That’s what we love about playing Chico State,” Miller said. “They give you different looks and it was good for our guys to get tested and play against the zone.
“The fact that we beat them the way we did tonight, I thought our guys were focused and hopefully that will set the tone for a good week of practice.”
Miller also thought Arizona improved “across the board” from its exhibition Wednesday, but he is looking forward to getting Randolph and Dylan Smith (suspension) back soon. (Rawle Alkins remains out until December.)
“That’s three players who all play the same position,” Miller said. “So I know it looks the part, but get in foul trouble or god forbid one of the perimeter players gets hurt, we’re actually not very deep.”
With Randolph out, Emmanuel Akot got the start at small forward.
Miller said he wanted more from Akot on the glass after Wednesday’s exhibition, and the freshman responded with seven rebounds.
“He’s capable and he has to give our team that element,” Miller said. “Without Rawle, we don’t really have that big small forward that we’ve had. Emmanuel can do a lot of different things, but anytime he gets a defensive rebound, he can push it and he makes good decisions.”
Akot also had six assists, along with six points and a block.
“He has talents and gifts,” Trier said. “Really long arms, being tall, he can move his feet, he has really active hands. he’s a really high energy guy, so you combine all those gifts that he has and he can really cause havoc on the defensive end.”
Arizona was 7-13 from 3 against Chico State after shooting 5-15 from that range against Eastern New Mexico.
That represents a dip in volume from last season when Arizona took 16.9 3-pointers per contest. The year before, UA took 17.0 3s per game.
Swapping Lauri Markkanen for Deandre Ayton is almost certainly the cause of that.
“We probably played a little more outside basketball,” Trier said. “We shot a lot of 3s last year. This year, having a guy like Deandre where you can throw him the ball on the block and he can do a lot of great things for us, that changes the dynamic of our team.”
That said, Miller has no problem with Ayton shooting 3s, though the big man has taken only one 3 in the exhibition season, which he made.
“It’s a good shot for our team to allow him to do that because it puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Miller said. “You have to deal with him everywhere not just around the basket, but on the perimeter. He’s efficient, he’s not going to take bad shots … If he doesn’t have a good shot, he’ll move the ball.”
Miller said Ayton is also a “very good” free throw shooter, which was evidenced by the freshman shooting 13-14 from the line during the exhibition season.
While Arizona lost another player on the wing, it returned Parker Jackson-Cartwright, whose debut went swimmingly.
The senior had 14 points, four assists and three rebounds in 28 minutes, shooting 4-4 from the field, 2-2 from 3, and 4-6 from the free throw line.
Arizona had 16 assists to 13 turnovers against Eastern New Mexico without PJC, but had 21 assists to 10 turnovers against Chico State (a better team) with him.
“Parker does a good job setting the tone for us, what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to execute, whether it’s pushing the ball or getting us into certain sets when we’re on offense,” Trier said. “He means everything to our team being one of the older guys and a senior, a leader. You can tell that him coming back and playing tonight really took our team to bigger heights."
Miller said of PJC: “I think his style is also a great fit for the rest of the group, because he’s a much different player than the rest of the guys. He finds people and he’s made a big difference."
Chico State shot 36 percent from the field and 6-19 (32%) from 3. UA also held them to just five free throw attempts and outrebounded them 39-22.
“I thought we did a good job playing defense without reaching and fouling,” Miller said. “Which, in the month of November, isn’t easy to do, especially on our side with such a young group. We had some breakdowns, but those are all things that we want to look at and improve on from today until next Friday."
Miller said Ayton is prone, like all freshmen, to making mistakes, but “his intent is good.”
“The way we’re playing — and I think it will help his development and give our team a different look — he guards the other team’s four when Dusan (Ristic’s) in there,” Miller said. “We’re asking him as a freshman and at his size to guard a guy tonight that is 6-5, 6-6 who can really shoot the 3. But I think the more you challenge him, the more he’ll grow, and with his growth defensively, he’ll really give our a team a lot of good characteristics.”
Ayton said he is comfortable guarding every position.
“Very comfortable,” he said. “I want to be a very versatile player.”
The best part of Ayton’s day was his passing, slinging the ball around the floor as Chico State brought double team after double team.
The 7-footer finished with three assists along with 19 points and 11 rebounds, spearheading UA’s lethal offensive attack.
“They elected to post trap him and he looked like a 10-year NBA player,” Miller said. “How seasoned, how poised he was at handling the double team, just making the simple play, making 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 creating five or six just great shots for our team.
“But for someone at the beginning of his freshman year, usually post trapping teams can be a problem.
“But 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, but he knows what he’s doing out there and he makes his teammates better.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire