No. 21 Illinois wanted a win over No. 9 Missouri to ease the pain after a humbling loss to Illinois-Chicago last weekend, but the 75-64 defeat to Missouri sent the Illini into a brief three-day Christmas break feeling down.

Bah humbug.

No. 21 Illinois wanted a win over No. 9 Missouri to ease the pain after a humbling loss to Illinois-Chicago last weekend, but the 75-64 defeat to Missouri sent the Illini into a brief three-day Christmas break feeling down.

Illinois may not deserve the lump of coal, like the Illini did after the loss to the Flames, but the holiday will have an empty feeling after watching Missouri pull away for a second consecutive win in the series.

"We have three whole days,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I hope that's good. They need a break. I need a break. Then we come back, and Iowa is the most important game of the year. The records don't matter. We have to come to play on the road and get our confidence back.''

With a two-game losing streak, Illinois doesn't have the luxury of blowing another game. The Illini (10-3) open the Big Ten Conference season with a road game against Iowa (7-5) Wednesday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday (8 p.m., BTN).

"The biggest game of the year is Wednesday vs. Iowa,’’ Weber said. ‘‘We have to be mentally ready. We can’t have any more letdowns.’’

Illinois finished the non-conference season with a 3-2 record in high level games (wins over Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga; losses to Texas and Missouri). That's a successful climb for a team trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but the loss to Illinois-Chicago last weekend put an unsightly blemish on an otherwise respectable run before conference play.

"I would say our non-conference schedule has been a B or B-,'' said Illini guard Demetri McCamey. "We have to come out and finish to win these type of games, and that is what is going to help us in March.''

Poised to enter the top 10 before the loss to UIC, Illinois instead attempts to regroup during a quick Christmas break. Missouri scored eight points in 9.2 seconds, keyed by an intentional foul, to pull away from the Illini.

-- Illinois seniors Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale played with energy and toughness against the Tigers. After combining for six points and six rebounds against UIC, Davis finished with a game-high 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Center Mike Tisdale had nine points and 13 rebounds.

If the Illini want to make a run in Big Ten play, they need a consistent level of performance from the seniors.

-- Heckled again as soft and poorly motivated, the Illini dominated the glass against the athletic Tigers. Illinois entered the game 10th in the Big Ten rebound margin, but Illinois grabbed a 46-27 advantage on the glass against Missouri. Illinois finished with 19 offensive rebounds.

Unfortunately for the Illini, they had trouble converting the extra possessions into more points. Illinois scored 15 second-chance points. The disparity was even greater in the first half, when the Illini had 14 offensive rebounds and only 10 second-chance points.

Illinois missed plenty of point-blank opportunities.

"You have to put those in, take your time, make shots around the basket," said Davis. "But we played well. This team played with heart."

-- Illinois freshman Jereme Richmond made the first start of his career. He contributed five points, seven rebounds and four assists in a solid but unspectacular game. Attempting to shield Richmond from pressure as a rookie, Weber may decide to keep Richmond in the starting lineup although the move was based on an injury.

Guard Brandon Paul bounced back from a sprained ankle suffered versus UIC to play. He didn't shoot well (3-for-11) and lost a key turnover down the stretch, but his ballhandling was valuable against the Missouri press.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.