By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –It is not unusual for Division II college basketball teams to step up in exhibition games and take on Division I programs. The local scene has seen several area squads do just that over the last week, on both the men’s and women’s side.
However, you would be hard pressed to find a team taking up a bigger challenge than the Philadelphia University women’s team will on Tuesday when they travel up to Hartford to take on the defending Division I national champions, and probably the top women’s basketball program in the country — the University of Connecticut.
This matchup is actually their second against a Division I opponent this preseason. On Saturday, they took on Seton Hall out of the Big East.
“When people hear that, they think we’re either crazy or we’re pretty good,” Philadelphia University head coach Tom Shirley tells KYW Newsradio. “And I’m not sure which.”
It should be noted that the Lady Rams showed they were pretty good against Seton Hall, taking them to overtime before falling, 87-85.
So how did this matchup come together?
“Well, I’ve actually known (Connecticut head coach) Geno (Auriemma) for a long time,” Shirley says. “He went to Bishop Kenrick, which was the Catholic school in the neighborhood, I went to Plymouth-Whitemarsh, which was the public school. We did not run in the same circle, but we knew each other. And then of course, when he got into the coaching venue, and I got into the coaching venue, our paths would cross from time to time, and we’ve always had a friendly relationship. I saw him at the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame and I said, ‘Hey, can you help us out?’ And he said, ‘Sure, no problem.’ And sure enough it came together.”
Senior guard Meg Finn is looking forward to matching up with the Huskies.
“Going to UConn is just an amazing experience that not every Division II basketball team can say they did,” Finn tells KYW Newsradio. “So I think we’re all just really excited just to be in the atmosphere and just get a feel for what that pace of game is like.”
Shirley has definite goals for this challenge, and they really go beyond the scoreboard.
“I really look at this as a bonding trip,” Shirley says. “If our kids can come together, have a good time, have a great experience playing, in a sense, their heroes on the same floor. And then feel real good about coming home and playing West Chester in the opener, I think that’s the goal of the trip.”
Philadelphia University and Connecticut will tip-off at 7:00pm on Tuesday in Hartford.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.