NCAA berth one win away for Robert Morris women


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In Robert Morris' first two Northeast Conference tournament games, the Colonials had to face some form of adversity before rising to the challenge.

In the quarterfinals against LIU Brooklyn, they had to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit to win. Then in the semifinals against Bryant, an 11-point first-half lead evaporated into a tied score at halftime before Robert Morris eked out a five-point victory.

Coach Sal Buscaglia certainly hopes that the championship today against Saint Francis won't require the same sort of comeback, but if it does, he's confident in his team's ability to pull it off.

"These kids are so resilient," he said after the semifinal win.

"I tell people all the time when we're watching the men play, people get all nervous like, 'We're down, we're down.' I say it's a 40-minute game. It's not a 20-minute game, it's a 40-minute game. In basketball, there are 70 possessions, minimum. You can't panic. If you panic, you're going to lose the game."

Scouting report 

Game: Robert Morris (20-11) vs. Saint Francis (15-16) in the NEC championship, Sewall Center.

When: 3 p.m.

TV: ESPNU.

At stake: The winner receives the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA women's field will be announced 7 p.m. Monday (ESPN).

The championship at Sewall Center will be an in-state showdown between the NEC's two Pennsylvania teams. Saint Francis of Loretto and Robert Morris split the season series, with each team winning on its home court.

In a home game March 1, the Red Flash held Robert Morris star forward Artemis Spanou to just 11 points, 8.5 below her season average.

Bryant opted not to double-team Spanou in the second half of the semifinal, and Spanou responded with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the final 20 minutes.

That said, Spanou fully expects to be the focal point of Saint Francis' defensive efforts.

"I'm expecting a double-team every game," she said. "Whoever doesn't give it to me, yes, it's surprising for me. It opens things up for me, I get more shots. That's what happened in the second half [against Bryant]."

Still, Buscaglia knows that his team's best chance offensively -- as it has been all season -- is to run things through Spanou, the NEC player of the year.

"One thing great about this team is they don't mind Artie getting the ball," he said. "They have no problem giving Artie her touches. They just want to win and if we go through Artie, we go through Artie, and that's what we've done. That's what I call a team."

Spanou's contributions have been invaluable, but one of the biggest reasons Robert Morris is one win away from its first NCAA tournament bid since 2008 is the contributions of four freshmen -- Anna Niki Stamolamprou, Janee Brown, Cassie Oursler and Rebeca Navarro -- who have played beyond their maturity in this NEC tournament. Those four combined for 35 points in the semifinal against Bryant, and will need to contribute again today if the Colonials want to cut down the nets.

"It's crazy," Oursler said. "The intensity is a lot higher. I like how we've raised the intensity. It's just a great experience, honestly."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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