Lesar: Robert Morris won't change approach as heavy underdog to Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame three years ago. UConn last year. Notre Dame again Friday night.

Kinda tough being the Robert Morris women’s basketball team, at least when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

Seeded No. 64 of 64 in last year’s event. The Colonials had a 101-49 loss to UConn to show for it.

Then there’s three years ago – again, a 16 seed. No. 1 seed Notre Dame rolled up a 51-point win, the greatest first-round margin of victory in Irish history.

So, why should Friday night be different?

They’re at Purcell Pavilion for more than a paycheck.

“We don’t change anything,” Robert Morris coach Charlie Buscaglia said of his 22-10 team. “We go into each game with our hands wide open; a full heart. No matter what the result, we’ll walk off the floor with our heads high knowing that we served each other for 40 minutes.”

The one big change has been that Charlie has moved down a seat on the bench and replaced his dad, Sal, who had been the Colonials’ head coach for 13 seasons.

What makes Robert Morris a unique entity in the realm of women’s college basketball is an ability to attract a foreign base of players — five from three different countries (Greece, Spain and Canada) — that can buy into the culture that has been established at the Pittsburgh-area school.

“Even though they come from all over the world, they have the same mindset,” Buscaglia said. “We look for players that fit our culture.”

Three seniors – Anna Niki Stamolamprou (Greece), Rebeca Navarro (Spain) and Janee Brown (Mitchellville, Md., who went to elementary school with Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen) — have payback on their mind. They were freshmen in 2014, when the Irish pummeled them in Toledo, 93-42.

“We’re more prepared than we’ve been in the past,” said Navarro, a 5-foot-11 guard averaging 8.7 points. “We’ve learned from that.”

Hard to put a happy face on the last two NCAA opportunities.

“It was a great experience,” said Stamolamprou, a 5-9 guard who leads the way with 16.5 points. “We’ve seen some great players. This is a completely different game.”

“We’ll play hard and compete,” Navarro promised.

Brown, a 5-8 guard, may not. A high ankle sprain has sidelined her for a while. Her availability is in doubt.

“One thing about international players, a lot of programs recruit them over their head,” Buscaglia said. “When you’re coming all the way from Spain, you want to go somewhere where there’s an opportunity.

“You don’t want to come over here and never see the floor.”

They aren’t coming to the Steel City to fill out a roster or boost the team GPA. These international players are there to compete.

Buscaglia, who is the point man on the Robert Morris foreign pipeline, laughed about an incident that happened in Greece when he was trying to land Stamolamprou. After arriving at the hotel, he immediately went to the lobby restroom to freshen up before meeting the anxious recruit and her family.

During the process, he removed his Northeast Conference championship ring and, after being distracted, left it on the sink.

After talking a bit to Stamolamprou and her family, he realized his mistake. He returned to the restroom and it was gone. Buscaglia was distraught.

“(Stamolamprou) said, ‘Pick your head up,’” Buscaglia recalled. “‘I’ll get you another ring.’

“We connected right away.”

Actually, over the last four years they’ve earned the bling three times.

That’s why they won’t change a thing.

Robert Morris Head Coach Charlie Buscaglia talks to his players during a practice at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., on Thursday in advance of the first round of the NCAA Division 1 Women's Basketball Tournament. (Tribune photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)