Now there's more reason to get away from it all for Illinois basketball after an 81-68 loss to Missouri on Wednesday night at Scottrade Center. Following a loss to Missouri for the first time in 10 years in the Braggin' Rights series, Illinois leaves for a three-day break and a chance to get away from basketball.

Last week, Illinois freshman guard D.J. Richardson couldn't wait to return home for a three-day Christmas break, except for one reason.

"I'll get a chance to get back to Peoria and hear all the people nag to me about losing to Bradley,'' said Richardson, the former Peoria Central High School star.


Now there's more reason to get away from it all for Illinois basketball after an 81-68 loss to Missouri on Wednesday night at Scottrade Center. Following a loss to Missouri for the first time in 10 years in the Braggin' Rights series, Illinois leaves for a three-day break and a chance to get away from basketball.


Then it's back to reality and trying to fix a season with a string of losses that have been hard to swallow.


"The turkey is definitely going to taste different this year,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We have to see if we can react.''


Illinois (8-4) returns to practice Sunday and host Northwestern (10-1) Wednesday (8 p.m., BTN) in the Big Ten Conference opener. After a short vacation, the Illini need to get it together when they return.


"This is a character test,'' Weber said. "What are you about? We need to get away. I have to think about it. The staff has to think about it. Somehow you have to get away, clear your mind and then come back and gather together.


"A lot will be determined when they come back in the first day of practice. What is their mental state?''


With so many losses in December, it puts March Madness in jeopardy, said Illinois center Mike Tisdale, who had 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds against Missouri. The Illini haven't lost more than three games before Jan. 1 and still reached the NCAA Tournament in the same season since losing five and playing in the NCAA second round in the 1997-98 season.


Those Illini rallied to win a share of the Big Ten title, so it's not too late for a change in direction.


"I'm about to get away from basketball for a little bit,'' said Illini guard Demetri McCamey. "We've got to keep fighting. When we get back from Christmas break, it's whole new season. Leave these four losses back at home. Worry about the rest of the season.''


Illinois did little to quiet the critics who call for more toughness, defense and rebounding. The Illini lost the battle inside and outside against the Tigers. Illinois allowed Missouri guards to score 63 points. Although Illinois won the rebound battle 47-37, Missouri grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in the second half.


Going against what Missouri coach Mike Anderson called "organized choas,'' the Illini lost a season-high 22 turnovers.


After wins in his first two seasons made Christmas that much better, "it will be different this year,'' Tisdale said. "I'm going to think about it whether I want to or not. We have to forget about it, come back and get better in practice.''


Northwestern is the surprise team of the Big Ten. After losing star Kevin Coble and senior Jeff Ryan to injuries, the Wildcats' only loss came to Butler. Illinois also plays Gonzaga on Jan. 2 before getting back into Big Ten play.


"This next game at home is important,'' Weber said. "Everybody is feeling sorry for themselves. This is a key stretch for us.''


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