The Tar Heels will send Friday night hero Adam Warren (11-0, 1.95 ERA) to the mound, while Rice will start 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander Matt Langwell (5-1, 2.15).
"Some people would say we have the advantage," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "We're coming off a win and (we're) the home team.
"You throw that all out the window after the first pitch. It's all about performance."
Carolina (56-14) grabbed a stronghold of momentum thanks to a stellar starting performance from senior right hander Robert Woodard; while Dustin Ackley shook off an 0-for-12 slump with two hits, including a devastating three-run homer in the seventh.
"We'll show up tomorrow," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "(UNC) came here to win a national championship and so did we. They have to win one more game to get into the championship and so do we."
With Carolina leading 3-0, Ackley took Rice reliever Chris Kelley deep to right field, and this time the ball cleared one of the inexplicable yellow wall extensions at Rosenblatt Stadium. The blast broke open a tenuous game as Chad Flack and Kyle Seager scored along with Ackley.
"I talked to the coaches about some mechanical things I wasn't doing, but I just hit the ball today," Ackley said. "I have the same mindset everyday."
Ackley's was the decisive blow that snapped the Owls' (56-13) nine-game winning streak. Although Carolina tied with Clemson for the most homers (66) this season, Ackley accounted for the Tar Heels' first of the College World Series and second over a span of 14 games in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
UNC scored runs in the first two innings, thanks to timely hits and pair of costly Rice defensive mistakes.
Owls' top starter Ryan Berry hit Reid Fronk to start the game. A single by Tim Fedroff moved him to third, and then Josh Horton scored Fronk with a single to center.
In the second, Berry's defense let him down, as back-to-back errors and a walk to Fronk scored Chad Flack. A sacrifice fly by Fedroff enabled Ackley to cross the plate with the Tar Heels' third run.
Berry was pulled after 3.2 innings when he had allowed just one earned run on three hits.
But this was Woodard's show. Coming off a career-low 1.2 innings of work on Friday, in which he surrendered four earned runs on seven hits, Woodard stymied the Rice batters for 6.2 innings.
"I was chopping at the bit to get back out there," said Woodard, who scattered five hits and struck out four.
When he gave up a two-out RBI single, Fox opted for Ron Wooten, who needed just two pitches to retire the side on a harmless Rice grounder to first.
"Today, I thought [Woodard] had some of the best stuff I've ever seen from him," Owls' first baseman Joe Savery said. "He was pitching me low and away, and no one can hit low and away. Barry Bonds can't even hit low and away very well."
Savery, a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies, hit into a pair of Woodard-induced double plays.
Woodard picked up a school-record 34th career win, which is tied for seventh in ACC history.
"I've been fortunate to coach a lot of players and no one has the heart of Robert Woodard," Fox said. "It was all about Robert. He has as much pride in his performance as anyone I know. We had the right person, as well as pitcher, on the mound today."
The Owls lone run in the seventh snapped a run of 15.1 consecutive scoreless innings pitched by the Tar Heels. However, Wooten and Andrew Carignan combined on a two-hitter the rest of the way to force Thursday's game.