With Loyola repeatedly knocking it off balance, North Carolina struggled to find solid footing in the first half of Saturday's NCAA tournament second-round game against the Greyhounds.

North Carolina would score. Loyola would then counter.

North Carolina would score again. Loyola would then counter again.

It wasn't until junior Laura Zimmerman scored just as the half expired that the Tar Heels had a toe hold they could use to lift them over Loyola and into the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. While the final score was relatively close — 16-13 in favor of North Carolina — the Tar Heels had a measure of comfort in the second half after Zimmerman's goal, never leading by less than three.

"I thought it was really big momentum swing for us," North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said of Zimmerman's goal, which made the score 10-7 at the break. "Even up by 2, you can score quick in lacrosse. I think going up by 3, especially hitting that shot, was great. I think it was a great momentum builder for halftime. It gave us a little bit of a cushion."

Zimmerman led North Carolina's attack with four goals, Corey Donohoe had three and four different players — Kara Cannizzaro, Emily Garrity, Becky Lynch and Brittney Coppa — scored twice at Fetzer Field.

The trip to women's lacrosse's biggest stage has become something of a habit for North Carolina, which has reached the national semifinals three straight years and will shoot for its first NCAA title in Stony Brook, N.Y. The third-seeded Tar Heels (15-6) will face either Northwestern or Albany in their next game.

"It's a great feeling," Donohoe said. "This is what we've worked for all year long — to get back to this point. I'm really proud of what our team did today. I think it was a tough battle out there and we stuck together and never gave up. We just played a good team game."

Sixth-seeded Loyola (17-3) and North Carolina traded goals for most of the first half, with neither team leading by more than 1 most of the way.

After the Greyhounds took a 6-5 lead with 10:30 remaining, the Tar Heels scored three straight to take the first two-goal lead of the game. The two sides then exchanged goals to make the score 9-7 in favor of North Carolina late in the half.

With the seconds ticking away, North Carolina had the ball in the Loyola zone. After Loyola goalie Kerry Stoothoff made a nice save with 3 seconds left, officials called a foul against the Greyhounds, giving the Tar Heels a free position. Zimmerman charged forward from eight yards out, putting the ball in the lower left portion of the net.

"Eight yards can kind of be mental," Zimmerman said. "At that point, you just try not to think about what's on the line and just try to take care of the little details."

The Tar Heels scored the first two goals after halftime, giving them a comfortable working margin. The half wasn't completely without incident — Loyola's Marlee Paton scored with 3:34 left to bring the Greyhounds within 3 — but the Greyhounds couldn't come up with a goal that might have changed the game's complexion.

"I thought it was a great game," Levy said. "I thought it was neck and neck early, which is what we anticipated. I thought our fitness and our conditioning and our focus started to come towards the end of the first half and in the beginning of the second half. I thought that was the difference in the game."

Duke 13, Florida 9: For all the experience it lacked on Saturday, the Florida lacrosse team, with 16 players from Maryland, found something else pretty quickly -- perspective.

A veteran Duke squad had just ended the Gators' season, handing them a 13-9 NCAA quarterfinal loss in Gainesville, Fla. Moments afterward, the best player on a young team explained what Florida's season meant.

"What we've done this year is amazing," said Kitty Cullen (McDonogh), who finished the year with 77 goals. "We're a bunch of sophomores and we just made it to the Elite Eight. All the starters are 19 and 20 years old. We really made a mark this year and teams next year are really going to need to watch out for us."

Fourth-seeded Florida (16-4) ran into an experienced Duke team that was patient on offense and controlled the draw.

--Rachel George, Tribune Newspapers