VILLANOVA, PA. - Kara Cannizzaro scored four consecutive second-half goals and Abbey Friend scored three times as third-seeded North Carolina dominated second-seeded Northwestern, 11-4, on Friday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament semifinals at Villanova Stadium. The victory sends the Tar Heels to their second appearance in the national championship game.
"I am really proud of my kids, my players," head coach Jenny Levy said after the game. "I thought we stuck to the game plan, we trusted in each other. We are really excited, it was a great win, and I like how we executed. I thought we were poised, we stuck together and executed really well on defense."
The win improves Carolina to 17-3 this season and ties the school record for wins in a season set previously in 2002 and 2010.
Carolina snapped Northwestern's streak of eight consecutive appearances in the NCAA title game. The Tar Heels had been 0-4 against the Wildcats in NCAA Tournament play prior to Friday.
UNC, making its seventh appearance in the national semifinals and fourth in five years, also beat Northwestern 11-8 during the regular season on Feb. 22. The only other time a Kelly Amonte Hiller-coached Northwestern team has lost to the same team twice in the same season was last year against Florida.
Aly Messinger had a goal and an assist for UNC, and Sammy Jo Tracy, Kelly Devlin and Jessica Griffin all scored once. Emily Garrity and Taylor George dished out assists for the Tar Heels. Northwestern got single goals from Kat DeRonda, Amanda Macaluso, Kelly Rich and Alyssa Leonard. DeRonda added an assist.
Northwestern held Cannizzaro scoreless until the 16:19 mark of the second half. "In the first half, Northwestern did an amazing job, they totally shut me down," she said after the game. "It speaks volumes of my teammates. My teammates carried us in the first half, and they produced when I was shut down. That's what allowed us to explode in the in the second half"
Freshman Megan Ward played all 60 minutes in goal for Carolina, making seven saves and limiting Northwestern to four goals, tying the Wildcats' season low.
The Tar Heels jumped out quickly and led, 4-1, at halftime, holding an opponent to one goal in a half for the third time this year. It was the 25th time in NCAA semifinal and final history that a team has scored just one goal in a half. It was the second time this season the Wildcats had been limited to one goal in a half.
Friend scored twice in the opening period, once on a free position attempt and once as she was falling to the ground in front of the Wildcat goal. Griffin also scored on a free position try, and Messinger tallied an unassisted goal on a nifty, stop-and-go move from the right of the cage.
After scoring the last two goals of the first half, the Tar Heels scored the first three of the second half to take a 7-1 lead with 22:57 to play. Friend scored her third goal at 27:47 on a pass from George off a free position attempt. Four and a half minutes later, Tracy took a pass from Garrity and scored for a 6-1 UNC advantage. Devlin's free position goal made it 7-1. Leonard scored for the Wildcats with 20:29 left to break the 5-0 Carolina scoring run. Carolina held the Wildcats scoreless for nearly 26 minutes of play spanning halftime.
Northwestern scored two in a row to cut the Tar Heel lead to 7-3 with 18:55 to go, but Cannizzaro responded with back-to-back goals in a two-minute span to put Carolina back ahead 9-3. She followed with her third consecutive score at 11:57, putting back a loose ball for a 10-3 advantage. Her fourth in a row came just 22 seconds later, slipping it into the net for an 11-3 lead.
The Tar Heels advance to Sunday night's NCAA championship game to face top-seeded Maryland, which defeated Syracuse in Friday's second semifinal.