Badgers staying defensive, await Hodge

North Carolina State standout Julius Hodge will challenge a UW team that is on a roll defensively

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team is clicking on all cylinders defensively. But just around the corner is the Badgers' nemesis this season: a guard who can post up, drive the ball to the lane or shoot it off the dribble.

Julius Hodge is Mr. Everything for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, UW's opponent in the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 Friday at 6:27 p.m. in Syracuse, N.Y.

Hodge, a 6-foot-7 guard, is 10th-seeded N.C. State's leader in scoring (17.1 points per game), rebounding (6.7 per game) and assists (4.8 per game). He possesses the rare blend of basketball acumen, scorer's savvy and athletic ability that has befuddled the Badgers at various junctures this season: Indiana's Bracey Wright, Minnesota's Vincent Grier, Illinois' Luther Head and Dee Brown and Michigan State's Alan Anderson all took over games in leading their squads to victories over UW.

"Hodge is a guy who can put it on the floor and post up," UW sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said Sunday night, after the sixth-seeded Badgers beat 14th seeded Bucknell to advance to Friday's Syracuse Regional semifinal.

Taylor watched parts of N.C. State's upset win over Connecticut in Worcester, Mass., on television Sunday afternoon, prior to the Badgers' game in Oklahoma City. It was Hodge who converted a 3-point play with 4.3 seconds left to provide the Wolfpack with a 65-62 victory, sending the defending national champion and No. 2 seeded Huskies home. Hodge finished with 17 points and six assists in the game.

"We are just going to have to try and limit his touches and not give him any easy baskets," Taylor said. "We were watching the game [Sunday] and we know he likes to post up. We just have to try and take that away from him."

In UW's 71-62 win over Bucknell, the Badgers did an excellent job defensively against guard Kevin Bettencourt and small forward Charles Lee. Bettencourt, who entered the game averaging a team-best 12.9 points per game, was held to three points on 1 of 9 shooting, including 1 of 6 on 3-point attempts. Lee, who averaged 12.6 points per game, managed eight points on 4 of 13 shooting and an 0-for-3 performance from beyond the arc.

"We knew going in that [Bettencourt] was a big part of their offense," said UW senior guard Clayton Hanson, who had the primary responsibility for guarding Bettencourt. "He got a lot of looks against Kansas." Bettencourt scored 19 points on 5 of 15 3-point shooting in the Bison's first round upset of third seed Kansas Friday night. "Any time a guy is scoring like that it is going to draw attention," Hanson said.

"They did a good job on us," Bettencourt said. "It's tough. We didn't get the shots off or they really contested them…They are a good defensive team, that's one of the reasons they're here."

Hanson has consistently defended the opponent's best perimeter player this season and has faired well against spot-up shooters such as Bettencourt. Hodge, whom Hanson will likely check Friday, however, falls into the category of player who has given UW fits.

"We don't really know much about [N.C. State] now," Hanson said Sunday night. "We are just enjoying this one. Obviously we are going to get ready for them [this] week."

Wisconsin's team defense has been strong throughout the season, and excellent of late. Bucknell's 62 points Sunday snapped the Badgers' seven-game streak of holding opponents to 60 or fewer points. In the past eight games — including three Big Ten Tournament games and two NCAA Tournament contests — UW is allowing 55.1 points per game.

"Our defense has really been stepping it up this last month," Taylor said. "We just want to keep it going and get ready for Friday."

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