Dawgs power on to NCAA Finals

ATHENS – Even before Georgia had completed its NCAA semifinal win over Virginia on Monday, Baylor head coach Matt Knoll already had handed the Bulldogs the national championship, which won't be officially decided until Tuesday.

Top-seeded Georgia was just beginning what would be a 4-1 win over the fourth-seeded Cavaliers when Knoll pronounced them unbeatable. Knoll's third-seeded Bears were moments removed from a thrilling 4-3 loss to 10th-seed Illinois when he was asked about the Illini's chances in the final.

"Georgia is way too good for everybody," Knoll said. "I think it's hard for all of us to sit here today and understand how good Georgia is. These guys are elite players who have not gotten enough experience under their belt in their careers for us to recognize them as elite players, but they are way better than everybody."

The Bulldogs will try to prove that today by winning their fifth national championship in a 3 p.m. match at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The match will be carried live by ESPNU.

Illinois, which won the NCAA title in 2003, the last time the championships were decided in Athens, plans to show up despite Knoll's prediction, head coach Brad Dancer said.

"The only thing I could say to that is we'll be here at 3 p.m. ready to go," he said.

Illinois has bucked the trend just to advance to today's match. It upset seventh-seeded Ole Miss and second-seeded Ohio State before knocking out the Bears.

"Supposedly we have no chance, but nobody gave us a chance to get past the first round, nobody gave us a chance to get to the final four, and nobody gave us a chance" Monday,Illinois sophomore Marc Spicijaric said. "We'll be ready to play."

Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz is growing weary of having his team cast as the inevitable champion.

"I think (the Illini) deserve a little credit," he said, "and if you look at their lineup, they struggled at times with injuries during the season. Their guys are now healthy. They're playing well. They really geared up for this tournament. It's going to take a great match by our team to beat Illinois."

Still, Georgia (31-0) didn't jeopardize its reputation as a juggernaut Monday by easily dispatching the Cavaliers. It's only loss came at No. 1 singles, where the nation's No. 1 player, senior John Isner, lost 6-4, 6-4 to the nation's No. 2 player, junior Somdev Devvarman. It was Isner's second dual match loss this season.

"He's one of the best players college tennis has seen in a long, long time," Devvarman said. "Everyone has tough matches and tough days. I think John just had a bad day, and I had a good one. That's how it goes at this level."

That blemish was the Bulldogs' first of the tournament, first since April 21 in fact. Regardless of today's outcome, Georgia will not match the dominance of the 1998 Stanford team that didn't lose a team point in the NCAA Tournament. Only two teams (Baylor in 2004 and Stanford in 2000) have won the title while dropping one team point in the tournament.

Georgia was in this same situation last year, undefeated and rolling through the NCAA tournament when it lost 4-2 to Pepperdine in the final.

"It took me a couple weeks to get over that one, maybe a couple months, but I think that's behind us," Isner said. "We're a whole new team this year. I don't think about it too much now, don't let it bother me."

Despite his team's loss Monday, Virginia coach Brian Boland isn't ready to cede Georgia anything.

"Illinois is playing great," he said. "That's why you play the match. You certainly can't say Georgia has it locked up. I don't think (Illinois) is just going to lay down. Georgia is a great team, sure they're the better team, but you have to go play."

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