Robert Morris women's basketball clinches return bid to NCAA Tournament
Three separate developments stood out Sunday while the Robert Morris women's basketball team earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
• Senior guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou, dribbling effortlessly behind her back and through her legs even in the tense moments, scored 23 points to lead the Colonials (22-10) to a 65-52 victory against Bryant in the Northeast Tournament championship game.
• Defense set the tone for the Robert Morris' third title in the past four years, blanketing Bryant for most of the game while recording 10 steals and nine blocks.
• Even Robert Morris president Christopher Howard was a small part of the show in the last game at Sewall Center. He sat courtside, joining Colonials fans in their chants and cheers, and walking away with a piece of the net after coach Charlie Buscaglia cut it down.
That was all nice and forced even the supremely focused Buscaglia to allow himself a faint smile while climbing the ladder to cut down the net.
But what set this game apart for Buscaglia were his team's three missed layups at the beginning of the game while Bryant (18-14) took a 4-0 lead.
“How many teams start off the game with three missed layups and then continue to go tough after it on the defensive end?” he said. “Usually, that carries over.
“That has a lot to do with the leadership. Before when they were younger, they would hang their heads. When you miss three layups that those players would probably make 100 times in a row (and recover from it), that has to be mental toughness.”
Buscaglia said that mindset is a product of the humility he demands of his players.
“If you miss a shot, if you get beat on defense, don't come back on the next possession and think about it,” he said. “Move forward and understand you have a whole team that's counting on you to be tough.”
Defense allowed Robert Morris to dominate the first half, take a 33-16 lead at intermission and go up by 22 early in the third quarter.
“In our games where we really set the tone defensively, that's when we are at our best,” Buscaglia said.
Bryant rallied in the fourth quarter but got no closer than nine points with 4:02 left. At that point, a three-point play by Mikalah Mulrain restored the lead to double digits and RMU had weathered the only threat to its dominance.
“It was our last game at the Sewall Center,” said Stamolamprou, the tournament MVP who added nine rebounds and five assists and chucked the ball to the rafters at the final buzzer. “We couldn't let (the lead) go.”
Sewall Center, home to men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball since 1985, will be razed this summer and replaced by the $50 million UPMC Events Center.Howard believes the facility will increase the school's profile.
“Winning also does that,” he said. “You need the facility, and you need the people who have the heart and soul.”
Teams coached by Buscaglia and his father, Sal, have done their part, earning five trips to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.The team made it last year, losing in the first round to eventual national champion Connecticut, 101-49.
Buscaglia said he has no idea how this team will be seeded when brackets are released Monday. ESPN's bracketology predicts the Colonials will be a No. 16 seed.
“I'm oblivious to what is going on in the world right now,” he said. “I don't know who's playing and who's doing well. I never look at standings or rankings. All I know is our team.”He said he was proud of how his players outscored UConn by nine in the fourth quarter last year.
“We will fight against anybody,” he said.
Or, as senior Rebeca Navarro, explained: “Whatever comes, we are going to face it hands wide open with a full heart.”