TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia sat down at the postgame news conference and began his opening statement, his voice choking up almost immediately.
“Notre Dame’s great, and all these other people are great, but they do the same thing that they do. They work their tail off for me,” Buscaglia said. “Just because we’re not Notre Dame — and they’re great — because we’re Robert Morris doesn’t mean that these young ladies don’t do everything that they do. Everything they do!
“Did you ever go and work so hard for two-and-a-half hours, and then have to take an ice bath? Try it. That’s what they do. That’s what they do for me, and they do for their school.”
Buscaglia went on for about three minutes, emotion pouring out at the end of a special season. The 16th-seeded Colonials lost 93-42 to top-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday, but their coach was not about to let his team become a mere footnote — another anonymous underdog brushed out of the way by one of the NCAA tournament favorites and quickly forgotten.
So Buscaglia spoke loudly and passionately, his tone a mixture of appreciation and defiance.
“Did you ever go ride a bus for 10 hours, and then have an exam at 11 o’clock in the morning after being on the bus all night, and get A’s? That’s what they do,” Buscaglia said. “That’s what type of quality people I have. I wouldn’t replace one of those 12 with anybody in the country. See I don’t care about the score of this game. I don’t care.”
Greek star Artemis Spanou, one of the top players in Northeast Conference history, was held to seven points and attempted only four shots from the field. Spanou became the third player in NEC history to earn player of the year honors in back-to-back seasons, but Notre Dame (33-0) was ready for her.
She played 39 minutes and finished with six rebounds and four assists, but she also turned the ball over eight times.
“She’s a great player, and we were able to force her into some turnovers and hold her to single digits, which I thought was a really good accomplishment for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Buscaglia singled out Spanou and fellow senior Kelly Hartwell at the news conference. Spanou was asked if she’d ever seen her coach talk like that.
“Coach is half Italian, so he’s emotional,” she said.
“Full Italian,” he replied.
Michaela Mabrey scored 11 of her 16 points in the first half for Notre Dame. Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa added 15 points each for the Fighting Irish, who are trying for their fourth straight Final Four appearance. Notre Dame is a No. 1 seed for the third straight season.
Notre Dame won its previous two first-round games at the NCAA tournament by 31 and 33 points. The margin was wider than that at halftime of this one, with the Irish up 50-15. Mabrey made back-to-back 3-pointers during a 25-4 run that put Notre Dame ahead 32-8.
The Irish outscored Robert Morris 50-8 in the paint.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou led the Colonials (21-12) with 12 points.
Any hope Robert Morris had of keeping this game close was pretty much dashed by Notre Dame’s outside shooting. The Irish, who came in shooting 34 percent from 3-point range, went 10 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Five Notre Dame players reached double figures in scoring, and 10 played at least 10 minutes.
But what looked like a mere tuneup for the Irish seemed much more significant for their overmatched opponents. With Spanou and Hartwell playing their final game, it was the end of an era for Robert Morris.
“I love you guys,” Buscaglia said, with his players seated beside him. “I love these guys. That’s from the bottom of my heart.”