RMU women look to make final step to Big Dance

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

There aren't many secrets between the St. Francis (Pa.) and Robert Morris women entering the Northeast Conference Tournament final at 3 p.m. Sunday at Sewall Center.

The top-seeded Colonials (20-11) know all about third-seeded St. Francis' preference to press from start to finish, keep their possessions quick and shoot the ball a lot. The Red Flash (15-16) know how crucial it is to keep the ball out of RMU senior forward Artemis Spanou's hands as much as possible while still being aware she isn't the only Colonials player who can score.

“It's really going to be tough for both of us,” RMU coach Sal Buscaglia said. “We have certain things we do. They have certain things they do. It's who will make shots, who will rebound the ball and make good decisions, not let the moment get the best of them and just focus in on what you can do and play your game.”

Robert Morris is in the NEC title game for the first time since 2008 when it defeated Long Island to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. The Colonials have faced St. Francis (Pa.) four times in the postseason since Buscaglia became coach in 2003-04 and lost in the finals (2005), the quarterfinals (2009) and the semifinals (2010). They most recently beat the Red Flash in the 2012 NEC quarterfinals.

The Colonials head into Sunday's game with an advantage at home. They are 15-4 at Sewall Center and have won a program-record 12 straight at home. Their last home loss was to Colgate on Dec. 14.

St. Francis, of course, doesn't have far to travel from Loretto. Still, Buscaglia believes they have a significant home-court advantage.

“I think it's probably good for them since they're so close that more people will come, but it's still our court, our locker room,” Buscaglia said.

Robert Morris, the NEC regular-season champs, made it this far by coming back from a first-half deficit to dominate No. 8 LIU Brooklyn in the second half of the quarterfinal game, then maintained a lead during most of a close semifinal against No. 4 Bryant on Wednesday.

St. Francis outlasted No. 6 Sacred Heart, 132-124, in double overtime, then led for all but 21 seconds at No. 2 Mount St. Mary's to win 68-63.

“The games were so different,” St. Francis second-year coach Joe Haigh said. “Both teams struggled to make shots (against Mount St. Mary's). After scoring all those points, it was different to be in a low-scoring game and a physical (postseason) game. It was a lot slower than we normally like.”

What Robert Morris likes is to give the ball to two-time NEC Player of the Year Spanou as much as it can. The record-setting senior, who could be playing in her final home game, recorded her 85th career double-double in the conference semifinal.

“This team doesn't mind giving Artie the ball,” Buscaglia said. “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. No matter what happens on Sunday, the journey has been awesome.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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