Robert Morris University women have a foreign flavor

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

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Sal Buscaglia is teaching basketball to the Robert Morris University women’s basketball team. He’s learning about the cultures of the world in the process.

When Buscaglia’s No. 16-seeded Colonials (21-11) face No. 1 Notre Dame (32-0) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, they will do so with seven international players on the roster.

“The Europeans, they like to eat dinner at 10 o’clock at night,” Buscaglia said. “At my age, if I eat dinner at 10 o’clock at night, I won’t be sleeping.”

Buscaglia, a 37-year coaching veteran, said that mid-majors often hit the international recruiting trail because there is less competition from major colleges for the talent there. Robert Morris’ roster includes two players from Greece, two from Spain and players from Italy, France and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sometimes, Robert Morris strikes it rich with a player such as Artemis Spanou, a 6-foot-2 senior forward from Rhodes, Greece, who averages 19.8 points and 14.8 rebounds.

Other times, Robert Morris gets the mid-level player. But no matter the type of international player, there is always a transitional period.

“Obviously, in Europe, basketball is more of a free-flowing style,” Buscaglia said. “It’s not as aggressive, defensively.”

It takes time for the international players to embrace playing defense and developing the mental toughness needed to sharpen a defensive attitude.

Buscaglia spends plenty of time weaving strategies and drills on the court with homespun stories about becoming tougher. He tells his players of his tough upbringing on the Westside of Buffalo, N.Y., losing his father at the age of 8, seeing his mother go off to work at a factory to provide for the family. He tells his stories of the people who get up at 4 a.m. every day to support their families, the heroes who never hear their name echoed across an arena.

Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff, who played both Robert Morris and Notre

Dame this season, said that the Colonials reflect their coach’s toughness and won’t be intimidated by the Irish.

Wolff said that many times in women’s basketball, a team can have the wrong mindset when it comes to playing a powerhouse team. Even BCS-level teams can be affected.

“Sometimes teams in the lower half of the ACC, and they’re playing the Notre Dames of the world, the magnitude of who you’re playing and the skill of the players gets the girls in a bad place mentally before the game starts. Robert Morris is a team that has historically played BCS-level schools, and when we played them, their girls were not afraid.”

Robert Morris will need all of its toughness in battling the Irish. Notre Dame leads the nation in field-goal shooting (.511), and is in the top 10 in seven other statistical categories.

Buscaglia said that Notre Dame’s discipline on the court reveals outstanding coaching. He admires the talent level of the Irish, and that they play hard every minute of every game.

He understands that the Irish are a team driven by more than the promise of a fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four, but by a hunger for a national title.

He wishes he could just sit back and watch the Irish game films as anybody other than an opposing coach.

“If I wasn’t playing them, I would enjoy watching all the game film I’ve been watching,” Buscaglia said. “I’m watching film, and I’m like, ‘Look at what those girls can do; they’re really fun to watch.’”

According to Wolff, Robert Morris likes to control the tempo.

“I would imagine, with Notre Dame’s size and ability, if they can get the game going up and down, it would really be to their advantage,” Wolff said.

Wolff doesn’t see Robert Morris having a chance to pull off a stunning upset.

“I don’t think Notre Dame has any weaknesses,” Wolff said. “If I was able to foresee the future, I would imagine Notre Dame will be playing UConn for the national championship.”

CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Twitter: rallo NDInsider

In this Sunday, March 16, 2014 photo, the Robert Morris NCAA college women's basketball team, including Artemis Spanou, left center, celebrates with the championship trophy after defeating St. Francis, 78-64, in the championship game of the Northeast Conference in Moon Township, Pa. Spanou lifted the Colonials into the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, scoring 30 points to go with 20 rebounds and six assists. (AP Photo/Altoona Mirror, J.D. Cavrich)

WHAT: NCAA Tournament, first round

WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-0) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (21-11)

WHEN 1:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Toledo, Ohio

TV: ESPN2

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9 FM, 92.1 FM)