May 20, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - Intrastate rivals Miami (Fla.) and Florida never met during the regular season, but they'll more than make up for it with a date in Saturday's NCAA Division I women's tennis quarterfinals.

The 11th-seeded Hurricanes (20-5) upset No. 6 Northwestern 4-1 in Thursday's Round of 16 to set up a clash with No. 3 Florida (27-2) at 1 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. The Gators knocked off Mississippi 4-1 on Thursday.

"I know they're good," Miami coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. "I think Florida is probably the best team in the tournament. Our mentality is, 'Why not play the best?' The girls are excited. I know they're good, but everybody is human."

The Gators needed Lauren Embree's 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Kristi Boxx at No. 1 singles to clinch their 20th straight victory and fifth this season at Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Florida defeated Georgia on April 11 and won three matches to take the Southeastern Conference title in Athens late last month.

"We've played well here," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said. "What really helped us before the SEC tournament was that we played the match of the year here during the regular season. Now, we're also drawing upon our SEC tournament experience here. We have a lot of first-timers, so it's certainly to our advantage that we've been in this environment before."

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BULLDOGS RIGHT AT HOME: Georgia men's coach Manuel Diaz hopes the home-court atmosphere will help the Bulldogs when they face Florida in the first round of the NCAA Division I men's finals at 6 p.m. (EDT) Friday.

The sixth-seeded Gators (21-4) are 2-0 against the No. 11 Bulldogs (19-7) this year, including a 5-2 win on April 11 in Gainesville, Fla., the first in three-match losing streak for Georgia.

"I think Florida has its best team in I don't know how many years and they'll be the favorite coming into our match," Diaz said. "I hope our guys play with a chip on their shoulder and play better than we played them the last two times. Our guys are coming in the back door, so hopefully we can make some noise and beat them. We can play with anybody in the country if we play our best." Diaz has led Georgia to four national championships, including consecutive titles in 2007-08.

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SOMETIMES YOU FEEL LIKE A NUTT: Looking for inspiration, Mississippi coach Mark Beyers turned to football coach Houston Nutt to deliver a motivational speech before the tournament's first round.

"They don't call him 'Reverend Reb' for nothing," Beyers said. "I was just trying to find somebody to come in and get the girls even more excited about this opportunity. I called Coach Nutt and he was gracious enough to come in and talk to the team. It was fun. He did a great job and got them inspired and almost got them in the quarters."

He needed something else after the Rebels won their first two matches last weekend, so Beyers turned to Mississippi's 31-30 football upset of Florida in 2008, showing his team highlights of the upset this week.

"I don't know if it topped Coach Nutt," Beyers said.

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BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS: Duke won the 2009 national title, but the emotions were just as strong on Tuesday after Elizabeth Plotkin defeated UCLA's Noelle Hickey 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) to advance with a 4-2 victory in a match between the past two national champions.

"When Liz won it, I had tears in my eyes," Ashworth said. "I could not believe how well we did. We didn't have a great end to the regular season. We didn't play well in the ACC tournament. For us to come back like that, I was so proud of them."

Five of the six singles matches went to three sets, with Duke's Amanda Granson and Mary Clayton winning at Nos. 4 and 6. Duke also won the doubles point.

"Every year is a different group of girls, but this year, we've been through so much and have a great bond," Duke's Reka Zsilinszka said. "We aren't the most talented team, but we work really hard and are able to grind through the matches."