Stanford vs North Carolina – 11:00 PM EST
-North Carolina did a stellar job of defending from wide positions against BYU in the Elite Eight, with Katie Bowen and Meg Morris doing their best to physically shut down the Cougars from creating from the flanks. There’ll be that aim again this time out against Stanford, but their task will be much harder with the Card’s full-backs such a prominent part of their attack. Ideally, Carolina would like to use Bowen and Morris to help jam Lo’eau Labonta and Courtney Verloo on the flanks to keep it from being a 3v3 situation in their defensive third of the pitch, but doing so could leave Rachel Quon on the right and Laura Liedle on the left with a lot of room to gallop through down the flanks. In this respect, it’s going to be vital that Summer Green and Maria Lubrano, the likeliest Tar Heels to be patrolling out wide in Stanford’s defensive third, to press heavily from the front and do their best to pin the Card’s full-backs back. If Liedle and Quon are allowed to motor forward, they could help create overloads down the flanks while also stretching the field even if Bowen and Morris retreat into their own end of the pitch to help out defensively.
-By far the most compelling individual matchup of the semi-finals will be between Mariah Nogueira of Stanford and Crystal Dunn of North Carolina in the midfield on Friday. Arguably each side’s best player, this tug of war has a good chance of deciding a winner if either can stamp their authority decisively in this matchup. Dunn was in scintillating form in the Elite Eight against BYU, taking advantage of not having a direct opponent in BYU’s 4-2-3-1 formation and using the space in between the lines to deadly effect, dribbling into that space and causing the Cougars no end of problems. She won’t have that luxury here, drawing a hard assignment in the form of the tough tackling Nogueira. While Nogueira’s received more attention for some of her timely offensive exploits this season, she remains a great defensive asset and crucial in any hopes the Card may have in slowing down the ever-present Dunn. Nogueira has to keep Dunn from using her direct dribbling talent to open up holes elsewhere by drawing defenders out to stop her. With 3v4 ahead of her, Dunn’s going to likely need to help influence the game and supply some service to the club’s forwards, especially if Bowen and Morris are preoccupied with their defensive duties.