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Notre Dame moves to 33-0 and second round, but Robert Morris stands tall in loss

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In the best defensive effort of its undefeated season, top-seeded Notre Dame dominated No. 16 Robert Morris, 93-42, Saturday in the first round of the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Toledo, Ohio.

The Irish (33-0) put five players in double figures and were one point off their largest margin of victory, a 96-46 outing over Valparaiso on Nov. 16, in the win over the Northeast Conference champion Colonials (21-12), who were making their third all-time appearance in the tournament.

Notre Dame will play ninth-seeded Arizona State (23-9) at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. PT) Monday in Toledo, after the Sun Devils’ 69-61 win over No. 8 Vanderbilt earlier in the day.

“I think everyone on the team wants to contribute in some way, and we tell them what their role is and they all accept their role,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think it is really key to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Fortunately, we have done that pretty much the whole season.”

Michaela Mabrey led Notre Dame with 16 points, followed by Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd (both 15), Madison Cable (13), and Ariel Braker (10). Cable and Braker each grabbed a game-high eight boards, and Lindsay Allan dished seven assists.

But we know about Notre Dame and its greatness, what makes the tourney so special is the chance to see teams and players that aren’t publicized in the national media during the season. Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia made that point clear in an emotional press conference following the game.

“I want to focus on the seniors,” Buscaglia proudly announced. “They work their tails off for me every day, and just because we’re not Notre Dame, doesn’t mean these ladies don’t do the same things they do. I wouldn’t replace one of these 12 girls for anyone in the country.

“I don’t cry about the score of the game, I just care that I’m going to miss the seniors.”

NEC Player of the Year Artemis Spanou, from the island of Rhodes, Greece, is now one of seven players in Division I history to amass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 100 blocks. The other six are Maya Moore, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings who are on a one way track to the Hall of Fame, WNBA stars Marissa Coleman and Jayne Appel, and Shelly Pennefeather who did it at Villanova in the 1980s.

“These four years have been wonderful for me, finishing No. 1 in the conference and going to the NCAA Tournament,” said Spanou, who collected seven points and six rebounds in her final game. “I just want to remember all the people I played with, the coaches and all the experiences I had.”

Freshman Anna Niki Stamolamprou, from Thessaloniki, Greece, led the Colonials Saturday with 12 points.

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