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Greg Hansen: Expect 'Scarywood' in McKale when Kelly Graves takes on UA, Wildcats fans on Friday

Oregon coach Kelly Graves downplayed last month's interaction with UA coach Adia Barnes, calling it overblown.

Kelly Graves is a large man, maybe 6 feet 6 inches, pushing 300 pounds, a former basketball player for the New Mexico Lobos who plowed Idaho potato fields to make ends meet at the beginning of his coaching career.

By any measure, he can be an intimidating figure in women’s college basketball.

A year ago, I watched on ESPN as Graves was assessed two technical fouls against Arizona — one during a 57-41 loss in Tucson and another in a 79-59 blowout loss at Oregon. He was a menacing figure. On the TV screen, he came off as a bully, a latter-day Bob Knight.

Compare that to a Jan. 26 game against Utah, when a Pac-12 Networks camera pictured a smiling Graves with his arm on the shoulder of Tucson Final Four referee Bob Scofield, patting Scofield on the back in the final moments of the Ducks’ 70-66 victory.

Was that the same man I saw a year earlier?

Graves has the smile of a gentle giant. He became well-known and popular at his former job, Gonzaga, for staging an epic community Halloween party at his three-car garage — in Spokane, it became known as “Scarywood.” Graves’ assistant coach, Jodie Berry, referred to him as “just a big kid. He realizes there is more out there than basketball; that’s what makes him so good with our women.”

Arizona’s women’s basketball team saw another “Scarywood” side of Graves in the Wildcats’ Jan. 15 overtime loss at Oregon.

UA coach Adia Barnes became agitated on the sideline, responding angrily to Oregon’s alleged taunts.

In response to a critical fan, Barnes tweeted: “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!”

Barnes was subsequently reprimanded by the Pac-12 for saying the Wildcats were “homered” by the officials.

Graves’ only public comment has been that the verbal altercation was “overblown.” He was not reprimanded.

Was it just a heat-of-the-moment spat to be forgotten? Only if you believe in the Easter Bunny.

Arizona senior guard Shaina Pellington tweeted: “My coach had EVERY reason to defend herself. She was cussed at, and called out of her name 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.”

Pellington hasn’t backed away from her claims; she has not deleted the tweet.

Barnes has chosen not to push the matter publicly. As of Wednesday morning, Arizona had sold 8,500 tickets for Friday night’s rematch at McKale Center and expects to hit a season-high attendance, in excess of 10,000. Barnes said the upper deck will be open for the first time this season.

Those seats aren’t filling up merely to see a basketball game between two top-25 teams. Those extra seats were surely sold to many who plan to give Kelly Graves an earful.

On Wednesday, I asked Arizona men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd if Graves is a good guy. Lloyd is the one man in the Pac-12 who knows both Graves and Barnes well. He coached at Gonzaga during Graves’ 2000-14 period as the Zags’ women’s coach. A year ago, Graves’ youngest son, Will, was a walk-on Gonzaga forward. He was coached in part by Lloyd.

“I don’t know if I want to step into that one,” said Lloyd. “I’m friends with both of them. I’ve known Kelly for a long time. He was a good guy to me, but don’t pull me into this one. No way, no shape or form do I want to see my name attached to that one. I stay out of the drama.”

UA coach Adia Barnes tweeted following the Wildcats' loss at Oregon last month that "if you would choose to sit and get cussed at by a man that's on you … But I'm not that woman!"

Drama can be good for college basketball when it’s mano a mano.

I’ve seen a livid Lute Olson standing jaw to jaw with agitated Oregon coach Ernie Kent mid-court at the old Mac Court, with 10,000 fans screaming unpleasant things to Olson. But that’s just entertainment in men’s college basketball.

But when it’s a male coach against a female coach, it should never be tolerated. Real or exaggerated, a feud between Kelly Graves and Adia Barnes is not entertainment. It’s toxic.

On Wednesday, Barnes took the high road. “I don’t think there are super-high emotions,” she said. “Not any higher or lower than other games.”

The next move is up to Graves. If he doesn’t greet Barnes with a handshake and smile in full view of 10,000 fans before Friday’s game — whether by his choice or by order from the Oregon administration — it will be a mistake.

Whether he understands it or not, Graves has become a role model for the diminishing number of male coaches who hope to remain part of the women’s game.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves, left, can be both an intimidating and charming presence.

Women’s college basketball is a game in transition. Graves is just one of two male head coaches remaining in the Pac-12, along with Oregon State’s Scott Rueck. Ten years ago, the Pac-12 had five.

Across the 65 Power 5 conference women’s basketball programs, there are just 20 male coaches now.

It was inevitable that there would be a clash of the sexes at some point, and maybe it’s a good thing Barnes is involved. She is fearless, not one to back down — not even to someone from Scarywood.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711

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