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Robert Morris women hope to make the grade minus successful senior class

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 5:45 p.m.
Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale knocks the ball away from Robert Morris' Megan Smith during a first-round game in the Women's NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale knocks the ball away from Robert Morris' Megan Smith during a first-round game in the Women's NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, in South Bend, Ind.

Keeping score matters to Robert Morris women's basketball coach Charlie Buscaglia and everyone else involved in athletics on the Moon campus.

That's why the university is constructing a big scoreboard inside the $50 million UPMC Events Center that will house the school's basketball and volleyball teams starting in January 2019.

Buscaglia has been part of a winning culture at Robert Morris for the past 15 years, first as an assistant to his father, Sal, the former head coach, and now in his second year as Sal's replacement.

He's proud of the team's 80 victories in the past four seasons, its five Northeast Conference championships since 2007 and the accompanying NCAA Tournament berths.

But if you want to hear a number that really stirs Buscaglia's passion for his program, try this one: 3.726.

That's his team's grade-point average during the 2016-17 academic year, second only to Wisconsin-Green Bay among Division I women's basketball teams and first among all athletic teams in the NEC.

“I couldn't tell you how proud I was,” Buscaglia said. “That, to me, was something I want people to know more than anything about our culture.

“We won't get so hung up on basketball that we were going to forget about what's important.”

But good academics led to graduation, that final walk across the stage and Buscaglia saying goodbye to last year's senior class.

“When things settled and we had to say our good-byes, it was very emotional,” he said. “We had to move past it.”

Gone are Anna Niki Stamolamprou, Rebeca Navarro and Janee Brown, perhaps the best guard trio to play together in the 48 seasons of women's basketball at Robert Morris. Their scoring averages totaled 31.3 points per game, led by Stamolamprou, who averaged 16.6 while winning NEC Player of the Year honors.

Stamolamprou and Navarro are playing professionally this season in Switzerland and England, respectively. Brown works in marketing for the Washington Redskins.

That leaves defense of the NEC title to what appears to be formidable front line that includes seniors Megan Smith (6-foot-1) and Mikalah Mulrain (6-3) and sophomore and NEC All-Rookie Team member Nneka Ezeigbo (6-2). All three are reliable with the ball in their hands and tracking down rebounds.

Smith averaged 10.7 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 47.7 percent from the field while earning NEC third-team honors. Mulrain shot 52.5 while averaging 5.9 and 4.5, and Ezeigbo came off the bench to hit 47.3 percent and score and rebound at 6.8 and 4.8 rates.

“To say they're going to be Anna Niki, we can't look for anybody to be anybody else,” Buscaglia said. “We'll see what they're able to do as far as making the team a better team.

“Everyone is going to be taking on a new role.”

Robert Morris was picked second in the NEC preseason poll, but Buscaglia offers no guarantees.

“It's too early for me to tell right now,” he said. “We're just trying to get a little bit better every day.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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