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Junior midfielder Michael Calderon, center, celebrates with freshman midfielder Ben McKendry, left, and sophomore defender Matthew Gibbons after scoring a goal against Virginia on Sunday at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Lobos play at Connecticut in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

Lobos face Huskies in Sweet 16

UNM men’s soccer head coach Jeremy Fishbein said he’s fine with the Lobos being the underdog against Connecticut in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

“We got a great challenge ahead of us,” he said. “I think one of the exciting things is that we’re the underdog. In our mind we’re not the underdog, but it’s a little bit different pressure.”

UNM (17-3-1) will take on the University of Connecticut (16-3-1) on Sunday at Morrone Soccer Stadium in Storrs, Conn. UConn has won 37 straight home games since it lost in the 2009 Big East tournament.

Following a demanding 3-1 victory versus Virginia in the second round last Sunday, UNM must deal with a top-level team for the first time since defeating then-No. 2 UCLA on Aug. 24, Fishbein said.

“I really like our chances moving forward in getting to play a great team in UConn … It’s a pretty intriguing matchup,” he said.

Senior goalie Victor Rodriguez will return to the starting lineup following his one-game NCAA suspension because of last year’s third-round NCAA game against South Florida. Rodriguez has not surrendered a goal in the eight games since Oct. 12.

The Las Cruses native said he has had no difficulty getting back in the groove of being a starter.

“I’m prepared. If I had to play today, I could do it. I haven’t lost any confidence in myself,” he said. “It’s a different challenge playing against some of the top players in the nation. I can’t wait.”

UNM hopes to extend its NCAA tournament run further than in 2011, when it reached the third round before losing to South Florida 6-5 in a shootout. The last time the Lobos passed the Sweet 16, the squad made the finals against Maryland and lost 1-0 on Dec. 11, 2005.

Senior midfielder Levi Rossi said the experience of last season’s tournament loss will only assist the Lobos in high-pressure situations.

“Last year was the first time we were a high-profile team trying to live up to high expectations. We were never in this situation before,” he said. “This year, we’ve been there and we know what it’s going to be like. We know what the atmosphere will be like and what a shootout is like in the Sweet 16.”

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The Huskies’ top players include junior forward Mamadou Diouf, who has delivered 14 goals this season, and Big East goalie of the year Andre Blake with a .5 goals against average and 11 shutouts in 2011.

Fishbein said Connecticut is unlike any opponent New Mexico has faced this season.

“Their attack is very good, very similar to ours. That being said, they haven’t scored many goals and they’re a hard team to figure out,” he said. “They have a fantastic goalie. He has great range and athleticism, but that being said, I think he’s too aggressive sometimes. You can’t let his athleticism become a factor.”

Rossi said although the team will miss the Duke City, there are some benefits to playing a NCAA tournament game on the road.

“I like that we have zero distractions and we only focus on soccer,” he said. “Our crowd is helpful, but sometimes there is pressure when there is a lot of support. I really like that we will play at nearly sea level coming from high altitude. I think it can be an advantage.”

Men’s soccer at Connecticut
11 a.m.
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