SYRACUSE, N.Y., March 25 -- If James Naismith had been around to witness Wisconsin's 65-56 region semifinal victory over North Carolina State on Friday night, he might have wished he had invented something other than basketball.
The Badgers' victory lacked style points, but Coach Bo Ryan and his team will gladly take it. Wisconsin (25-8) will face North Carolina on Sunday for a chance to advance to the Final Four in St. Louis. Wisconsin last appeared in a region final in 2000, when the Badgers beat Purdue to advance to the Final Four.
N.C. State's Julius Hodge, center, "likes to attack the basket, so whenever he had the ball . . . we all helped," Wisconsin's Alando Tucker said. "Everyone knew they had to be ready because he's going to be real aggressive."
(Travis Lindquist -- Getty Images)
On Friday, they used a 20-7 run at the start of the second half to erase N.C. State's 30-21 halftime lead.
Swingman Alando Tucker led Wisconsin with 22 points. He scored eight consecutive points and 10 of the Badgers' 13 during a key stretch of the second half. Forward Mike Wilkinson finished with 17 points and made 3 of 4 free throws to help put away the game in the final two minutes.
"At halftime we talked about playing Wisconsin basketball," said Ryan, who has been Wisconsin's coach since the 2001-02 season. "We were a little too quick, our minds were racing in the first half. During the second half, we played the way we've been playing all year."
After shooting 38.9 percent from the field, missing all three of their three-point attempts and committing 11 turnovers during the first half, the Badgers executed Ryan's cutting and motion offense better in the second half, shooting 58.3 percent from the field and making four of seven three-point shots.
Defensively, Wisconsin cranked up the pressure on N.C. State and swarmed senior swingman Julius Hodge, who was the only Wolfpack player averaging in double figures in scoring.
Hodge made only two of his first 10 shots and just four of 16 for the game and ended his N.C. State career with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Guard Engin Atsur led N.C. State with 16 points and also made four steals while guard Cameron Bennerman added 10 points.
Particularly in the second half, the Badgers focused defensively on stopping Hodge and extending to the Wolfpack shooters on the perimeter.
"We knew that [Hodge] likes to attack the basket, so whenever he had the ball and started dribbling we all helped," Tucker said. "Everyone knew they had to be ready because he's going to be real aggressive."
After shooting 45.5 percent and making 6 of 9 three-point attempts during the first half, N.C. State shot 38 percent and made only 3 of 13 three-point attempts during the second.
The game turned into the kind of halfcourt slugfest Wisconsin and many of its Big Ten rivals are used to, and N.C. State could never establish the kind of offensive flow it created in building a 24-15 first half lead.
"They were hot, making all of their shots, so at halftime we talked about closing out on their shooters and getting them out of their rhythm," Tucker said. "We were hoping they'd miss some."
The Badgers played unaesthetic basketball en route to its last Final Four appearance under former coach Dick Bennett -- Wisconsin did not break the 70 point mark in five tournament games and scored only 41 in a semifinal loss to Michigan State -- and they'll use the same style to try to get back.
Wisconsin fans, many of whom entered the Carrier Dome with hunks of fake cheese on their heads, have come to appreciate and even revel in ugly basketball. When reserve forward Andreas Helmigk, the only Austrian playing Division I men's basketball this season, banked home a free throw giving the Badgers a 49-39 lead with 8 minutes 11 seconds remaining, Wisconsin fans unapologetically stood and cheered.
Regardless of their artistic value, the Badgers are moving on.