Notre Dame easily dispatches Robert Morris in Women's NCAA Tournament

Ralph N. Paulk
| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 4:09 p.m.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Sal Buscaglia, with his voice cracking amid tears, unleashed a wave of emotions in the aftermath of Robert Morris' 51-point loss to top-seeded Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament at Savage Arena on Saturday.

A sometimes-angry Buscaglia insisted he wasn't shedding tears because the Colonials were unceremoniously ousted from the tournament by one of college basketball's elite teams. Instead, the 93-42 setback jolted him into the reality that two of his key players — seniors Artemis Spanou and Kelly Hartwell — spent the final minutes of their college careers silenced by the noise of Notre Dame's seemingly inevitable trek to the Final Four.

Buscaglia, whose team scratched its way into March Madness by winning the Northeast Conference Tournament, couldn't cap the flow of emotion when asked to size up the Irish, who dominated the Colonials on both ends of the court.

“I want to focus on these young ladies,” said Buscaglia, pointing toward Spanou and Hartwell. “Notre Dame is great, but these ladies do the same things they do. They worked their tails off for us every day, and just because we're not Notre Dame — and they're great — it doesn't mean these young ladies don't do everything that they do.

“You ever have to work for two and half hours, then go get an ice bath?” Buscaglia asked rhetorically. “It's what they do for me and for their school. You ever ride a bus for 10 hours and have an exam at 11 in the morning — and get A's? That's what they do.”

Yet, the 16th-seeded Colonials (21-12) couldn't match the Irish's muscle or speed. They were dominated on the boards 45-22 in surrendering 50 points in the paint and 20 second-chance points. And the Irish blistered RMU in transition as their guards rushed the ball up court often without breaking stride.

More importantly, the Irish (33-0) defused the usually explosive Spanou. The Colonials' leading scorer struggled to find a shot, mostly because she couldn't shake free of Notre Dame's towering front court players — Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Taya Reimer.

Spanou, who totaled 30 points and 20 rebounds in the NEC Tournament final, had only 7 points on 2-for-4 shooting. It was her worst performance since a 5-point effort in a 67-51 loss to Wagner on Feb. 3.

“Artemis is a great player, but we didn't expect Notre Dame to double- and triple-team her,” Buscaglia said. “On the first possession, they doubled her and she drove right through it. I wish more people saw her when she wasn't double- and triple-teamed.”

Spanou nearly exhausted herself during the pregame warm-ups in an effort to fire up underdog Robert Morris. But shortly after the Colonials' faithful settled into their seats, the Irish were off and running into Monday's second-round matchup against Arizona State, a 69-61 winner over Vanderbilt.

“I didn't go out there scared, and I played my game the way I know how to play,” said Spanou, who added eight rebounds and two steals in 39 minutes. “Getting double-teamed by a team such as Notre Dame shows a lot of respect from them.”

The Colonials were led by Anna Stamolamprou led 12 points. Michaela Mabry led Notre Dame with 16 points while Mt. Lebanon graduate Madison Cable had 13 points and eight rebounds.

“I think everyone on the team wants to contribute in some way, and we tell them what their role is and they all accept their roles,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “It's easy when you're scoring, but it's tougher when your job is passing and defense.”

Defensively, the Irish held RMU to 27 percent shooting and they forced 17 turnovers, which led to 22 points.

The Colonials were hanging around the first five minutes, mostly because they slowed the game down and cramped the Irish's style, particularly in transition. Ultimately, the Colonials were lured into a track meet with a Notre Dame team that possesses a decisive speed advantage.

The Irish went on an 11-0 run to take an 18-4 lead with 13:53 left in the first half. Then, RMU was outmuscled in the paint during a 23-7 Notre Dame flurry that left them facing a 41-13 deficit with 4:28 left in the half.

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