For the first time, Illinois coach Bruce Weber acknowledges his Illini are running out of time. That's just repeating what everyone else already felt outside the locker room. If the Illini don't improve, they can't compete against the best teams in the Big Ten.
For the first time, Illinois coach Bruce Weber acknowledges his Illini are running out of time.
That's just repeating what everyone else already felt outside the locker room. If the Illini don't improve, they can't compete against the best teams in the Big Ten.
"It's sad,'' said Weber after the Illini’s 84-78 loss to No. 13 Purdue at Assembly Hall on Tuesday. "I think we're a better team than this. Right now, we're still searching. The problem is it's getting very late in the season. We have to figure things out before it's too late.
"We have to get everyone playing well at the same time. We're a good team. We're not always smart. We don't always guard. Hopefully, we can make some progress and make a push as we continue into the second half of the season.''
Illinois (12-7 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten) heads into a key stretch with three of the next four on the road. The Illini play at Northwestern (13-5, 2-4) Saturday (7 p.m., BTN). Illinois also plays at Penn State and Iowa with a home game against Indiana in a span of four games against teams the Illini already defeated this season.
But when it comes to playing against the Big Ten's upper echelon, the Illini still have something to learn after giving up 56 points in the second half and letting Purdue guard John Hart – who wasn't even in the scorebook, a mistake that cost the Boilermakers a technical four and two points – score 14 points after he entered with only eight all season.
Illinois also suffered a decisive 73-63 loss to Michigan State last weekend.
"We talked about it Saturday,'' Weber said. "What did you learn from them? They play hard, cut hard and go to the boards. They keep coming at you. With Purdue, you learn from their determination.''
The same problems resurfaced for the Illini.
_Defense. After a strong first half, an Illinois defense that allowed 65-percent shooting and only had seven stops in the second half wasn't good enough, forward Mike Davis admitted.
_Leadership. Illinois started the second half with little motivation. Sometimes the talk has to come from within the locker room, Weber said.
"We have to get guys with some leadership saying the right thing,'' Weber said. "When the players coach, it makes it much easier. They take control. They lead. They say the right things. That's where we have to make some strides.''
_The bench is short again. Freshman Brandon Paul, Weber said, has a bigger upside that starter Bill Cole because of Paul's athleticism. Nevertheless, Paul is shooting 21 percent during Big Ten play, and Cole brings defensive effort lacking elsewhere in the lineup. Cole had three blocks while spending most of his time guarding Purdue forward Robbie Hummel.
“Dominique (Keller) has to figure out how to get in the flow of the game, so does Brandon,'' Weber said. "We need Brandon to play well if we're really going to be a really good team. Billy did a nice job on Hummel. At the same time, he has some limitations. Brandon's got to grow up fast for us and figure some things out.''
Weber expected the bench to be deeper. "There's still time,'' he said.
But time is running out.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.