Williams likely out until January

No. 14 Illinois lost its most consistent player -- its "heart and soul" -- for the rest of December when point guard Deron Williams broke his jaw during Thursday's win against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Williams, averaging a team-high 14.2 points and seven assists a game, had outpatient surgery Friday. Illini coach Bruce Weber told ESPN.com that the best-case scenario is for the sophomore to return Jan 3. against Illinois State. Four days later, Illinois opens the Big Ten season against Ohio State.

That means Williams is out for Saturday's game against Memphis (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), the heated rivalry game against No. 4 Missouri in St. Louis (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) Dec. 23 and a tough in-state game at Illinois-Chicago Dec. 30.

"We were told three weeks -- at least,'' Weber said of the recovery.

Williams suffered the injury when he ran into a pick set by Eastern Shore's Jareem Dowling, less than two minutes into the second half of the 85-43 victory in Champaign, Ill.

"His jaw hit right at his shoulder,'' Weber said. "We ran out there, and Deron said, 'I broke my jaw.' Our trainer then came back to us and confirmed that it was broken and that he needed to go to the hospital. You hate to lose anybody, but we're losing our heart and soul.''

Illinois (5-2) was coming off a crushing loss to Providence in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Maryland-Eastern Shore matchup was the Illini's only breather during a brutal stretch that started Nov. 29 at Temple, followed by games against No. 10 North Carolina in Greensboro, Arkansas in Chicago and Providence.

To compensate for Williams' absence, Weber expects Dee Brown (37 percent shooting this season after 44.3 percent a year ago) to snap out of a season-long slump. But the Illini will also need freshmen Richard McBride and Brian Randle to play more minutes.

Weber went with a three-guard lineup Tuesday by starting Luther Head next to Williams and Brown. He could do the same by replacing Williams with McBride.

"Deron had been our most consistent player,'' Weber said. "... It's not going to be easy to replace him. At least the Memphis game is at home, and hopefully someone will step up and the crowd will be a factor and we can grind out a win.''

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.