Beleaguered Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team's fifth consecutive loss on Saturday was punctuated by one of his players shedding tears on the bench, tried to rally his troops Monday by challenging them not to feel sorry for him or for themselves.
"I can't have my own pity party," Weber said. "They can't have it. There's no sympathy from anyone. Obviously, you guys know it. It's out there. If we keep feeling sorry for ourselves, we're going to let the season slip by. We have to man up. Tough times stop; tough people don't.
"I told all the guys I don't want any more tears until the end of the season. We just got to play."
Weber's job security has become a major topic as the Illini have lost eight of their last nine and are 5-9 in the Big Ten. Weber guided Illinois to the NCAA championship game in his second season, but Illinois has missed the NCAA tournament in two of the last four years.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook after the season, has not given Weber a vote of confidence.
Weber stressed that his players needed to stay away from the negativity surrounding the program. He recounted a story where he listened to a radio station in his first year at Illinois, and the fans were critical after Illinois had a 13-game winning streak snapped.
"It gets to the kids," Weber said. "It gets to everyone. We have to create as much positive energy as we can."
The negative energy began to snowball during Weber's postgame press conference last week following a loss to Purdue. He said at the time he had been coaching not to lose all season. Some took the tone and the words as a concession speech. The fallout was so intense that Weber issued a statement the following morning trying to clarify his remarks and vowing he didn't want to quit.
Things bottomed out Saturday when Illinois lost by 23 points to Nebraska.
Since holding Michigan State to 41 points in a win on Jan. 31, Illinois hasn't allowed fewer than 67 points in a game and has given up an average of 75 points over the last five games.
"My thing is that we got to guard," Weber said. "That's one thing we were doing early. That gave us a chance to win games.
"I think some of it's fundamentals, pride and a little bit of effort. We just got to have something to hang our hat on. We were hanging our hat on that. Somewhere along the line we got away from stopping people."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.