For just the second time this season, No. 2 IU will face an ACC opponent in the NCAA Tournament semi-finals, and it comes in the biggest moment of its season.
No. 3 North Carolina stands in the Hoosiers’ way from reaching the national championship for the first time in five years, and IU has little familiarity with the breed of opponent the Tar Heels bring.
Earlier this year, the Hoosiers faced then-No. 7 Notre Dame, welcoming the Fighting Irish to Bill Armstrong Stadium in the thick of their season.
It was the only time IU faced ACC opposition in its 2017 campaign, and the Hoosiers put a dominant performance on display, defeating their rivals from the north 1-0.
Defense played a major role in that game, like it has all season for the Hoosiers, and the mentality will be no different this weekend, while also riding a hot attacking front.
“Defensively, we’re a really confident group, and we have players that have come back from last year on that back line,” senior defender Grant Lillard said. “We’ve been able to have strong defensive performances for a few years now, and the attacking options going forward, we always have a good chance to find a way to win.”
IU hopes the score against Notre Dame will translate from September to December when they take on the Tar Heels.
North Carolina also fell to the Fighting Irish in the second round of the ACC Tournament, a result that the Hoosiers will look at when preparing their game plan.
“You can see how good they are technically from top to bottom,” junior midfielder Francesco Moore said. “Watching some of the games, you can see how they like to play. They keep possession a lot, they spread the field and they have a lot of guys that are very quick and talented. Overall, they are ranked third for a reason, they’re in the final four two years in a row for a reason and we’re excited to play them.”
The Tar Heels have won three straight matches since then, in order to reach this point in the tournament, defeating North Carolina-Wilmington, SMU and Fordham. North Carolina hasn’t had too much success against prominent opponents, going 1-1-1 on the season against teams ranked in the top-10.
On the flip side, the Hoosiers went 2-1-1 against top-10 opponents with their last result coming in penalty kicks in the Elite Eight over No. 7 Michigan State. In such an emotional game, IU hopes to keep riding their hot streak into the College Cup.
“Every single game that we go into we’re confident that we’re going to get the result that we want,” Moore said. “Obviously last game, with that atmosphere, with all those people there, it was kind of like ‘Damn. We are going to a penalty-kick shootout, and we haven’t done that well in those.’ But there was no way that we were losing that game with all those people there in that environment."
The Hoosiers will take on North Carolina in Philadelphia with a place in the national championship on the line at 8:45 p.m. Friday. The Hoosiers are looking for their ninth national championship in program history as well.
“We have a great challenge on Friday against UNC,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “They’re as talented as any other team in the country. They’re dynamic and have excellent attackers. They’re a team that is very confident, as they should be with the schedule they had this season, so we’ll have our work cut out but we’re excited about it.”
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