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In the second quarter, Duke's Garrett Van de Ven, center, tries to get the ball from Loyola's Jeff Chase, right. At left is Loyola's Pat Spencer in the NCAA tournament first round on May 14, 2016, at Ridley Athletic Complex. Loyola won, 16-11.
In the second quarter, Duke's Garrett Van de Ven, center, tries to get the ball from Loyola's Jeff Chase, right. At left is Loyola's Pat Spencer in the NCAA tournament first round on May 14, 2016, at Ridley Athletic Complex. Loyola won, 16-11. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

North Carolina owns a 9-6 lead in this series against Loyola Maryland including a 2-1 edge in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels are playing in the final four for the first time since 1993 when they lost to Syracuse in the title game. The Greyhounds are making their first appearance since 2012 when they captured their first Division I championship.

North Carolina (10-6), the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titlist, has knocked off back-to-back seeded opponents in No. 6 Marquette and No. 3 Notre Dame. In Sunday's 13-9 victory over the Fighting Irish in the quarterfinals, the defense surrendered just three goals through the first three quarters. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Brian Balkam tied a career high with 14 saves, and a pair of long-stick midfielders in senior Evan Connell (Calvert Hall) and redshirt sophomore Jack Lambert shut out junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic despite a game-best 14 shots.

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No. 7 seed Loyola (14-3), the Patriot League tournament champion, has collected 10 consecutive wins with the latest being a 10-8 decision over Towson in Sunday's quarterfinal. In that victory, junior attackman Zack Sirico matched freshman attackman Pat Spencer (Boys' Latin) for game highs in both goals (three) and points (four). Sirico, who matched a career best in goals, has posted career highs in goals (19) and points (33) this season.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday at 12 p.m.

1) Battling for faceoffs. North Carolina junior Stephen Kelly (Calvert Hall) ranks 15th in the country in faceoff percentage (59.0 on 222-for-376) and seventh in ground balls per game (7.1). Loyola junior Graham Savio has won 52.9 percent (153-for-289) of his draws and has averaged 4.1 ground balls, but he claimed just 15.4 percent (2-for-13) and two ground balls in a 16-11 victory over Duke in the first round. Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey knows the first way to counter the Tar Heels offense is to win a faceoff.

"The one thing I would say is a lot of their offense starts at the X," Toomey said. "They're terrific. Kelly has had a heck of a year. He's given them the ball an awful lot. It's kind of a quick-strike, make-it, take-it situation, and it can become that quickly."

2) Getting acquainted with the knowns. This game will mark the first between the programs since May 8, 1999, and there is much to learn for both sides. That is especially true for North Carolina coach Joe Breschi, who contacted, among others, the coaching staffs at Duke and Towson for advice on how to limit Spencer, who has set a Loyola Division I record with 83 points this spring.

"Some have said slide early, some have said double team, some have said don't slide," Breschi said. "We have to basically do what we're good at defensively. Sometimes that may be a zone, that may be man, that may be pressure, we may shut him off a little bit. As we're practicing through these next couple of days, we'll see what's most effective for the defense as a whole. But he's a terrifically dynamic player and it's going to be a huge challenge for the defense to maybe limit him."

3) Chasing ground balls. Both teams rank in the top 20 in ground balls per game with each side averaging more than 30. Loyola is 10-1 this season when it finishes a contest with more ground balls than its opponent, while North Carolina is 9-2 when it has the advantage in loose balls. Toomey knows ground balls can lead to possessions, which can translate into scoring opportunities.

"We've got to win some 50-50s," he said. "We're better when we have the ball, and if it's a game where we're playing every time down defensively, it's going to be a long day. They're athletic on both sides of the field, and they can put pressure on you defensively and chase you around, and they can ride you hard. But if we can start the game and even after a goal, if we can have possession, I like the way our team has responded to those moments."

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