Women's college basketball: Pac-12's newest rivalry ready for next chapter as Arizona hosts Oregon

Cate Reese and Arizona host Oregon on Friday. When they met in January, the hotly contested game was decided in overtime, a 68-66 Ducks win. AP Photo/Josie Lepe

Rivalries are the spice of sports, and new ones can pop up rather suddenly. Such is the case with Pac-12 women's college basketball's latest rivalry to keep an eye on: Arizona vs. Oregon. The teams meet in Tucson on Friday night, and Ducks coach Kelly Graves might not be the most popular person in the arena.

Suffice to say, it won't be a warm welcome after what transpired Jan. 15 during and after the Ducks' 68-66 overtime victory in Eugene, Oregon.

Arizona coach Adia Barnes allegedly made a profane gesture in the direction of Graves. Barnes didn't address that specifically but later apologized on Twitter for "being out of character and letting my emotions get the best of me. Despite the disrespect and being cussed at numerous times, I should have not responded back."

When one Twitter user asked on the thread what kind of example she was setting for players, Barnes responded, "If you would choose to sit and get cussed at by a man that's on you and what you are willing to tolerate. But I'm not that woman!"

Arizona player Shaina Pellington also tweeted that her coach had a right to defend herself because Barnes had been, "Cussed at ... in the most VULGAR ways the ENTIRE game by Kelly. We could hear it from the floor while PLAYING, in the most HOSTILE environment. He needs to be held accountable. Simple."

Subsequently asked about the Arizona situation two days later after his team had defeated UConn, Graves said, "I think whatever happened after the game has been blown up, to be honest with you. I don't think it was anything more on either side. That's what competitors do. We compete, and sometimes that's not always pretty. But I think it was blown out of proportion."

And then Barnes did some of her own defusing on Jan. 19, telling reporters, "When you're in sports, things get extremely competitive. It's the heat of the moment. I think it's just an issue because it's one man and one woman. But we're both competitive. Their team is theirs. My team supports me. There are no hard feelings."

Barnes was reprimanded by the Pac-12 for public comments made about officiating. She told reporters after the game that she thought the Wildcats got "homered" by the referees.

"It is what it is, and that's what the Pac-12 is -- we're going to get homered at different places and that was clearly going on today," Barnes said. "There was a lot of inconsistency. It was just tough for us to play, but not an excuse at all. We have to know on the road, it's like this. Probably some teams feel like that when they come to Arizona."

It's not that uncommon for coaches to make comments like this, and they don't always get disciplined if their leagues decide to let it slide or fail to notice in the first place. But with so much attention on the end of this particular game, Barnes was in the spotlight.

That has actually been a comfortable place for her as Arizona has ascended as a program. It's Barnes' alma mater, and the former WNBA player has brought an energy and excitement to the Wildcats -- along with a trip to the national championship game last season. Arizona fans have embraced her, just as Oregon fans have with Graves, who led the Ducks to the 2019 Final Four. Oregon would have been among the favorites to make it there again had the 2020 NCAA tournament not been canceled.

Pac-12 women's basketball has had one titan -- Stanford -- for decades, but the league has elevated with other programs that have achieved success, including Cal's trip to the Final Four in 2013 and Oregon State's in 2016. Last year's national championship game was an all-Pac-12 affair as Stanford edged Arizona 54-53.

Stanford is back on top in the current Pac-12 standings at 8-0 following a 76-48 victory over UCLA on Thursday. Entering the weekend, Oregon is 7-1, Oregon State 4-2 and Arizona and Washington State 5-3. So Friday's Ducks-Wildcats matchup has a lot at stake, both conference-wise and with NCAA tournament seeding.

And in today's transfer-portal world, coaches compete with each other not just in games and recruiting high school players, but also for transfers. In the case of the Ducks-Wildcats, former Oregon guard Taylor Chavez -- a native of Arizona -- transferred home last April, in part to be closer to her grandmother, who had been dealing with health issues.

Then in May, much sought-after former Southern California guard Endyia Rogers publicly narrowed her transfer choices to Arizona and Oregon, tweeting a graphic of herself with both logos behind her. She picked Oregon, adding a little more fuel to the subsequent fire.

Chavez is a reserve averaging 12.2 minutes per game for the Wildcats, who are led by Cate Reese's 14.9 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Rogers, who missed the first seven games of the season with an injury, is now Oregon's third-leading scorer (13.7 PPG) behind Nyara Sabally (16.8) and Te-Hina Paopao (14.1). She hit the winning shot just before the buzzer in the overtime win against Arizona, as the Ducks came back after being down as much as 17 points.

Bottom-line, there are plenty of reasons why Arizona vs. Oregon Part 2 should be intriguing, and maybe add more zest to a budding rivalry.