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Lacrosse Final Four: NU vs. UNC preview

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Northwestern and North Carolina are no strangers to meeting in the Final Four. Two seasons ago, NU blasted UNC, 21-7, in the NCAA championship game (see video highlights above, courtesy of Wildcat Youtube guru NUBears) for the Wildcats’ fifth straight title. Last year, NU beat UNC again, this time in the semifinals, 15-10.

On Friday, the two teams will meet again in the semifinals in what should be a good matchup. The No. 3 Tar Heels are 15-5 on the season, runners up in the ACC to defending NCAA champion No. 1 Maryland, which plays No. 5 Duke in the other semifinal. The No. 2 Wildcats are 19-2 and seeking their sixth NCAA title in seven years.

If you’re hoping to watch the games on TV, you’re out of luck. Amazingly, in this age of a gazillion sports channels, nobody is broadcasting the Final Four this year, even though the event continues to set attendance records every year. So, either you’ll have to be there in person in Stony Brook, N.Y., or you’ll have to be content with a livestream on NCAA.com. Game time for the NU/UNC semifinal Friday is 6:30 p.m. CT. (editors note: IT'S ON TV, YO! BTN!)

Hit the jump for a deeper dive into the matchup.

 

 

NU and UNC have already met this season, with the Wildcats winning 7-6 in OT on a goal by Taylor Thornton with 15 seconds left in the sudden-death extra period. But that game in February was eons ago, and as both coaches have noted, teams evolve throughout the course of the season. So, though both squads have extensive scouting reports on each other, I’m sure NU head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and UNC head coach Jenny Levy will have some new wrinkles in their game plans.

UNC is led offensively by senior attacker Corey Donahoe (51 goals, 21 assists), who holds the school record for goals and points, and junior attacker Becky Lynch (38 goals, 35 assists). The pair make up one of the top scoring duos in the NCAA. In the teams’ first meeting this year, NU was able to shut both of those players down, with neither scoring goals. Look for Wildcat defenders Thornton, Lacey Vigmostad and Colleen Magarity to draw the assignments of shadowing those two Tar Heels.

NU will counter offensively with Tewwaraton Trophy finalist Shannon Smith, who leads the NCAA in scoring with 73 goals and 41 assists and has scored five goals in four straight games. Smith’s goals represent 27% of NU’s team total of 270 goals, so you can’t possibly underestimate how much Smith means to the NU attack.

Smith and the rest of the NU offense will be going up against a very stingy UNC defense led by senior All-ACC selection Mia Hurrin. With freshman Taylor Thomas in net, the Tar Heels have allowed the fourth-fewest goals, just 8.11 per game.

The Wildcats are 8-2 against the Tar Heels in the 10 games they have played, but that stat will be meaningless come 6:30 p.m. Friday. NU has proven it can shut down high-flying offensive duos, as it has against not only the Tar Heels, but also Albany in the quarterfinals. On the flip side, UNC sports a very stout defense, and the Wildcats have at times struggled to find any offensive consistency outside of Smith.

It should be a great matchup, with a berth in Sunday’s championship game on the line. Too bad we won’t find it on TV.