Aggies’ big man Bhullar stands in SDSU’s way

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SAN DIEGO (AP) - Steve Fisher cut down the final net in the NCAA tournament 25 years ago and reached two other national championship games, so he knows about playing deep into March.

He’d like to think his fourth-seeded San Diego State Aztecs can advance beyond the opening weekend this year. To have that chance, the defensive-minded Aztecs first will have to get past an intriguing matchup Thursday night in Spokane against 13th-seeded New Mexico State and its big, big man, 7-foot-5, 355-pound center Sim Bhullar.

Aztecs forward Winston Shepard recalls beating Bhullar in high school.

“All I can really remember is we had a triple team on him and we still got dunked on,” Shepard said Monday.

Was he in on that triple team?

“No, not me. I don’t get dunked on,” Shepard said.

Have the Aztecs ever played against someone that big?

“No, I don’t think anybody in America has,” said Fisher, who has the Aztecs in the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year and seventh time overall since taking over SDSU’s previously sad-sack program starting with the 1999-2000 season. “He’s a big, big man. Everything about him is so much better than it was a year ago. I believe he’s only a sophomore. He will be someone who will make it difficult on us like he has on everybody he’s played this year.”

Fisher says Bhullar “is a force. He’s a hard guy to maneuver around, and they throw it to him early and often in that low post. They are like us - they have made more free throws than their opponents have shot. I can see why after watching tape on him.”

The biggest opponents the Aztecs have played against are Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow of New Mexico, which beat SDSU two of three times this season, including in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game Saturday night.

Bhullar is at least five inches taller than Bairstow and Kirk, and 100 pounds heavier.

“It’s going to take a team effort. Everybody just being in held position,” forward Josh Davis said. “The main thing is to just try to keep it out of the post.”

If Bhullar isn’t enough of a load, “they have another 6-9, 250-pounder who looks small by comparison,” Fisher said of Tshilidzi Nephawe, who is 6-10 and 265 pounds.

“He will present a challenge for us, no question.”

That said, Shepard doesn’t think Bhullar is the Aggies’ best player.

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