No matter how No. 23 Illinois made it look in the Big Ten Conference opener at Purdue in late December, life on the road in conference play is no easy task.

No matter how No. 23 Illinois made it look in the Big Ten Conference opener at Purdue in late December, life on the road in conference play is no easy task.

When the Illini opened the Big Ten season with an overtime victory at Purdue, winning on the road didn't seem like a big deal. With a 63-50 loss at struggling Wisconsin on Thursday, Illinois lost its fourth straight Big Ten road game.

Not coincidentally, Illinois' shooting slump also continued. The Illini shot 32.8 percent from the field, only slightly better than the season-low 29.4 set last week at Minnesota. Suddenly, the Illini aren't the Fighting Illini away from home.

"Since the Purdue game, we haven't played very well on the road,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We have to have the mentality that we have to stop people. Maybe that's what I have to talk about.

"We don't gut it out. When things don't go perfectly, we seem to wilt. I don't know what the reason is. We are young. At the same time, there's no excuse. You're deep into the season. You've been through it. Now you have to change.''

Sliding into a third-place tie with Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State, the Illini began a tough stretch of three on the road in the next four games. While Illinois is the only team without a Big Ten home loss, the Illini will attempt to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season.

Illinois fell to 18-5 overall and 6-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini host No. 12 Purdue on Sunday (noon, CBS).

"We can't lose two in a row,'' said Illini guard Chester Frazier. "It's probably one of the biggest games of the year. We're fighting for NCAA Tournament spots. Since we can't get one on the road, we have to protect our home court.

"We're not playing as hard (on the road) as we should in the first half. Then we get down and try to fight back.''

There's no reason to reach for the panic button -- the middle of the pack in the Big Ten was expected to be remarkably balanced -- but Illinois doesn't have the same threat on offense as it did before the last three games. Maybe teams learned what to defend with the Illini. Maybe shots just aren't falling.

"It's the second half of the season,'' Weber said. "You play a team the second time, they take things away. We have to get open shots. I want to be aggressive and attack. We got some baskets early, then we didn't take good shots. We took quick ones and didn't get back on defense.

"It's a fine line: what's a good shot and what's not a good shot. If we trade quick shots on the road and let them get going, that's what's going to happen.''

Illinois sophomore forward Mike Davis finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season but the first in Big Ten play. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in the second half.

"Coach told me at halftime that if I don't rebound, I'm coming out of the game,'' Davis said. "He told me he had to make a point. He doesn't want to make a point late in the season, but he might have to if I don't rebound.''

Guard Demetri McCamey had 12 points, but Illini shooting guards Trent Meacham and Alex Legion combined for 4-for-17 shooting. Center Mike Tisdale was quiet, going 1-for-5. Frazier had 13 rebounds.

Wisconsin (13-9, 4-6) ended a six-game losing streak, its longest slide in 11 years.

Wisconsin guard Jason Bohannon hit his first six 3-point attempts and tied his career high with 20 points. Forward Marcus Landry had 16 points. Sophomore forward Jon Leuer found himself in the starting lineup when Keaton Nankivil suffered a sprained ankle, and Leuer took advantage by scoring 15 points.

"It was very big for us,'' said Bohannon. "We needed to start fast and finish strong. We had times where we had 3- or 4-minute stretches where we didn't play Wisconsin basketball (during the losing streak). Tonight, we played a full 40 minutes.''

NOTES: Illinois has lost six of the last seven games against the Badgers. The Illini's 64-57 victory over Wisconsin in Champaign on Jan. 24 snapped a five-game losing streak to Wisconsin. … Weber remained one victory short of 250 in his head-coaching career.

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

Illinois report card

Front court: C-

Mike Davis came up with his first double-double in Big Ten play, but he was silent in the first half when Wisconsin took control. Mike Tisdale had two early fouls and never was a factor.

Back court: D+

Chester Frazier showed some fight with 13 rebounds, but there's little offense on the perimeter. Demetri McCamey scored in double figures, but he didn't have more assists (four) than turnovers (four). Trent Meacham couldn't shoot his way out of his cold streak, and he's 8-for-33 over the last five games.

Bench: D

The bench did little to help the Illini. Dominique Keller gave up some easy baskets on defense. Calvin Brock couldn't stir anything up on offense or defense. Alex Legion can't find the bottom of the net.

Overall: D

When the Illini won at Purdue to start the Big Ten season, they only had one loss overall. Talk about a Big Ten championship began to blossom. More than a month later, the Illini still haven't won another Big Ten road game, and now the Illini are in a fight in the middle of the Big Ten pack. Illinois could use another win or two on the road, because going perfect at home is a tough chore. Remember: Michigan State and Purdue still come to Assembly Hall.