College of Charleston athletic department officials hope tonight’s women’s basketball game against No. 2 Connecticut at TD Arena will be an eye-opener for Cougars fans.

Director of athletics Joe Hull said he couldn’t imagine a bigger game for the women’s basketball program and that it ranked on the same level as when perennial men’s power North Carolina paid a visit to the school two seasons ago.

The Huskies have been one of the elite programs in women’s college basketball for the past couple of decades. UConn’s average home attendance last season when the Huskies reached the Final Four for the fourth straight year was 9,788; the College of Charleston’s home attendance for the entire 2010-11 season was 4,514.

Hull said the school’s main goal is to win the game. The College of Charleston is 2-7, while Connecticut is 9-1 after a 66-61 loss at top-ranked Baylor on Sunday.

“We are aware that those who project those things might not think we can. But we are going to do our best,” Hull said.

Cougars face ‘daunting’ task against No. 2-ranked UConn “In terms of what the game means, we would like for this game to create more interest in women’s basketball. If you come to one of our games, there are not enough people there. We’re hoping this will generate a higher level of interest in women’s basketball, get people comfortable with the idea of coming to women’s basketball games at our facility.”

Stepping stone Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said a lot of schools use games with Connecticut to try and improve their programs.

“Over the years we’ve been to a lot of places where a game is sold out for the first time. In a lot of cases it has created a little more awareness of the (home) team,” Auriemma said. “A bunch of people might come out tomorrow night to see Connecticut, not the College of Charleston. But that’s OK, as long as they like what they see. They’ll say ‘I’m going to go see another game.’ It has to start somewhere, and not everybody is as forward thinking as (College of Charleston coach) Nancy Wilson. ‘Bring Connecticut in here and they might beat us by a bunch but it’s worth it.’ People will come out (Wednesday) and see a good performance by us and the kids on Charleston’s team, and a bunch are going to come back out.”

Getting the game

In looking at his 2011-12 schedule, Auriemma felt like he needed to fill an 11-day break between the Baylor game and the Huskies’ next scheduled game Dec. 29 against Fairfield.

Neal Eskin, the executive associate athletic director for the school, had worked with Hull at Maryland and gave his former co-worker a call pitching the game.

“Neal called me out of the blue and asked if we were interested in playing Connecticut at home. We talked about the details, what dates might work, and he gave me a two-day window to fit it in,” Hull said.

Hull then talked it over with Wilson, who readily agreed. The Cougars will play at Connecticut next year.

“It was the right place, the right time with the right relationship,” Hull said.

A measuring stick

Wilson, who is retiring after this season, knows this will be the biggest challenge her teams have faced. She doesn’t want to place too much pressure on her team, but wants to use the game as a learning experience.

“It’s a bit daunting, but more than anything I think it’s exciting to have a team of that caliber come to our campus,” Wilson said. “I was just watching some film, and it struck me how beautiful their execution was. The beautiful things they did on the court, it’s fun to watch. Their athleticism, their skill level will be quite a treat for the fans.

“For our players, the way we’re trying to look at the game is that it’s a great privilege to have to opportunity to match up with them, to take the challenge of seeing where you are individually and collectively. We will come away from that game knowing more about good basketball than we knew going in.”

And, she hopes, this will give the local community a chance to “fall in love with us and learn more about us.”

Honoring Cougars

Wilson noted that a number of activities will be taking place prior to the game and during the first half.

At halftime, the jerseys of former College of Charleston players Regina Brown Hall (1979-83) and Lisa Washington (1984-86) will be honored. Hall and Washington join Kelli Garrett, Scooter Barnette and Nessie Harris with banners hung from the rafters at TD Arena.

Hall is the school’s No. 2 career scorer with 1,814 points and was an All-American. Washington is No. 14 in scoring with 1,268 points. Both are members of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Before the game, three College of Charleston women’s basketball teams that finished second in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national championships in 1980, 1981 and 1982 will be recognized.

Others who will be recognized include members of the first AAU national championship team (Barnette, Becky Moody Williamson and Emily Brown), women’s basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli of Mount Pleasant and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association executive director Beth Bass of Hartsville.

Former Connecticut player Kalana Greene, who played at Timberland High School, former St. Andrews High School star Katrina McClain and Pearl Moore of Francis Marion also will be recognized.