Robert Morris' success has been fine work of Artemis

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Before this season started, Robert Morris women’s basketball coach Sal Buscaglia sat down with his star player, forward Artemis Spanou, and outlined some goals for her senior season.

Statistically, there wasn’t much doubt what Spanou was going to bring to the table. She already held the program record for career double-doubles and led Division I in rebounding as a junior.

Buscaglia’s goals for Spanou’s final year were a bit more intangible.

“We sat down many times, many times, throughout her four years and I told her this year, ‘Artie, you’re going to bring everything to the table statistically, no question, but we need a leader. We need a leader. Like it or not, Artie, you’re going to be that leader,’ ” Buscaglia said.

“She said, ‘I’m ready to take that task. I will be the leader of this team.’ And she’s done an outstanding job with that.”

Spanou has the Colonials (19-11) two wins from their first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. Robert Morris will play Bryant (17-13) at 7 p.m. today at Sewall Center in the Northeast Conference tournament semifinals.

Just to get here, Spanou had to lead the Colonials past an upset-minded LIU Brooklyn squad Sunday in the quarterfinals. Facing a seven-point halftime deficit, Spanou scored Robert Morris’ first seven points of the second half as they pulled away for a 65-49 victory.

“Artemis is one of our captains,” freshman point guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou said. “She’s the leader so she always makes us go.”

Of course, the statistics are still there, too. Spanou has averaged 19.3 points and 14.7 rebounds this season. Her 22 points and 15 rebounds against the Blackbirds marked her 26th double-double this season, and she’s just nine away from tying her own program record for rebounds in a season, set a year ago.

“She’s the most in-shape player I’ve had in all my years,” Buscaglia said. “She was out shooting this morning, she was out shooting last night. I’ve got to tell her to stop. She’s just so in shape, we don’t mind playing Artie for 40 minutes.”

The Colonials beat Bryant twice in the regular season, and Spanou averaged 19 points and 17.5 rebounds per game in those two contests. The Bulldogs, though, have won four in a row and are coming off a five-point win against St. Francis in the quarterfinals.

Bryant is led by its own double-double machine, senior forward Naana Ankoma-Mensa, who averages 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Ankoma-Mensa had 12 points and 14 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ quarterfinal win.

Even though the Colonials are the top seed and favorite to win the NEC’s automatic NCAA bid on their home court, the too-close-for-comfort win against LUI Brooklyn showed that they can’t afford to take any opponents lightly.

“It’s playoff time,” Spanou said. “Everybody’s going to come to win games.”

Sam Werner: and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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