Living large after sweeping North Carolina and Gonzaga in back-to-back games two weeks ago, Illinois never pushed the pedal to the floor. Complacent in practice recently, Illinois won while sleepwalking through its last two games before this humbling 57-54 loss to Illinois-Chicago.

No. 12 Illinois reached the fork in the road Saturday at the United Center, where a relaxed attitude finally caught up with the Illini.

Living large after sweeping North Carolina and Gonzaga in back-to-back games two weeks ago, Illinois never pushed the pedal to the floor. Complacent in practice recently, Illinois won while sleepwalking through its last two games before this humbling 57-54 loss to Illinois-Chicago.

Where do the Illini go from here? Do they fight back? A team that failed to reach the NCAA tournament in March for the second time in the last three seasons was expected to be motivated rather than satisfied after one good week.

"This is a defining moment in the season,'' said Illini guard Demetri McCamey. "We have to make sure everybody is on the right page, first as far as practice.''

Oakland was underappreciated in a close Illini win on Dec. 8, but the inability to blow past visiting low-major Northern Colorado last weekend put the fear in Illinois coach Bruce Weber, even

if it didn't affect the Illini. Unable to consistently hit a curveball in the form of the 1-3-1 defense used by UIC, Illinois lacked the energy and failed to shoot its way to the win.

"It's sad we have to have a wakeup call,'' Weber said. "I gave them a goal of top 10 after Christmas. That's not going to happen. I've been scared. We haven't had great practices.

"It's very, very disappointing. It depends on them. It hurts me. Does it hurt them? If if hurts me worse than them, we're in trouble.''

A 17-point favorite, Illinois fell to 10-2 after seeing its seven-game winning streak come to an end. The Illini had won 10 straight against the Flames in a streak that spanned 20 years. Instead of climbing into the top 10, the Illini suffered their worst loss since a defeat to Tennessee State three years ago. Wait. It's worse than that.

Illinois just ruined its best ranking since the 2005-06 season. UIC stood at 261 in the Sagarin computer ratings heading into the game and 244 in Ken Pomeroy's power rankings.

"We have to go out there and play harder,'' said Illini guard D.J. Richardson.

Illinois plays No. 13 Missouri on Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPN2). That's a big game that should get everyone's attention, but playing at the United Center used to do the same thing for the Illini, who lost for the fourth time in the last five games here.

"I've been alarmed after the Gonzaga game,'' Weber said. "Our approach to practice caught up with us. I don't know if it's ever good to lose. You look for a positive. Will it change our outlook at practice and our approach to it?''

McCamey said the Illini don't have the same fight as they did to start the practice season in October.

"We lost our sense of urgency,'' he said. "At the beginning of practice, the guys were earning minutes, fighting and battling, pushing each other and going at it. Now we're little bit soft and relaxed. You can go up or down from this loss. You can learn a lot from it or put our heads down and lose to Mizzou. We have to come out and compete.''

Trailing by 10 points in the first half and eight in the second half, Illinois trailed until a 3-pointer by Richardson pushed Illinois to a 43-41 lead of 9 minutes 45 seconds left. The advantage moved to 49-41 as Illinois put together a 19-3 run. But UIC (5-7) rallied when the 1-3-1 zone slowed the Illini down the stretch.

UIC center Darrin Williams tipped in a miss for a 55-54 lead with 22.9 left. After three misses by the Illini, Williams sank a free throw with 3.5 seconds for a 56-54 lead. McCamey stepped out of bounds on the following inbounds pass. Trailing 57-54 with 1.1 seconds left, Illini forward Bill Cole's long pass landed out of bounds.

"I've got a good advantage of being in the Big Ten,'' said UIC coach Howard Moore, a former Wisconsin assistant. "Just having memories of how Northwestern had success with the 1-3-1 against Illinois. Minnesota gave them trouble with the 1-3-1. You guys know coach (Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan) doesn't believe in zone.

"We tried to throw a curveball. This won't be a setback for the Illini. Those guys will be fine. It's a wakeup call. They'll recover.''

Senior guard Robo Kreps, of Maroa-Forsyth, led the Flames with 15 points.

McCamey finished with 16 points, but he was 4-for-11 from the floor. Richardson had 13 points. No other Illini scored more than seven points. Forward Mike Davis and center Mike Tisdale combined six points and six reobunds on 2-for-11 shooting. The 32.7-percent shooting was a season low, and the Illini failed to reach 70 points for the first time this season.

A bad day finished even worse for Illini guard Brandon Paul, who was taken from the floor in the closing seconds with a sprained ankle.

"It's a great opportunity to play at a great venue with great tradition and history,'' Weber said. "Maybe I haven't done a good job relaying that to the guys.''

Or they didn't listen.

NOTES: Freshman forward Jereme Richmond grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, but the Illini lost the rebounding battle 36-34. ... The Illini host UNLV here next season. . . Illini freshman center Meyers Leonard played after missing one game with a sprained shoulder.

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

Illinois report card

Front court -- F
Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale combined for six points and six rebounds on 2-for-11 shooting. Illinois was outrebounded 36-34.

Back court -- C-
Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson were average but not special. They combined for seven turnovers. McCamey must be the leader. Richardson lost UIC guard Robo Kreps, who drilled three 3-pointers.

Bench -- D-
Only freshman Jereme Richmond made a real impact from the bench. The talk about the Illini deph in the preseason was, at this point, off the mark.

Overall -- F
Playing a 17-point favorite and closing on a highly successful non-conference run, Illinois hit the skids. Perhaps this is the game that gives Weber more ammunition to get the Illini's attention.

This was Illinois' worst loss in years.