The slumped shoulders, the exasperated facial expressions, the slow stroll to the bench. They all say one thing. Illinois junior forward Mike Davis hasn’t gotten a boost in confidence from Illinois' four-game winning streak to start the Big Ten Conference. Outside the locker room, there's still a lack of trust in the Illini after the 54-53 win over Penn State on Tuesday in Assembly Hall.
The slumped shoulders, the exasperated facial expressions, the slow stroll to the bench. They all say one thing.
Illinois junior forward Mike Davis hasn’t gotten a boost in confidence from Illinois' four-game winning streak to start the Big Ten Conference. Outside the locker room, there's still a lack of trust in the Illini after the 54-53 win over Penn State on Tuesday in Assembly Hall.
Although there are others on coach Bruce Weber's recovery list, a priority is Davis, a second-team all-Big Ten pick by league coaches last season who wasn't a factor against the Nittany Lions.
"We've got some guys not playing up to where they have played and where you think they will play,'' Weber said. "We've been able to win games. That means we can get better. It has to happen on the court.
"We've got a lot of guys struggling, yet we've won. If we can get everyone getting confident and playing well, maybe we can be OK.''
Illinois (12-5 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten) has won its first four games in Big Ten play for the first time since 2005 and the third time in the last 16 years, before an early-season test at No. 7 Michigan State on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS).
Illinois' wins came against teams with a combined 2-12 record heading into Wednesday. There was an overtime win, a one-pointer and a big rally at Indiana.
With a home game against No. 6 Purdue on Tuesday and a rugged schedule in the second half of the Big Ten season, Weber will want all hands on deck.
There are mid-season success stories: the resurgence of guard Demetri McCamey, whose season-high 25 points against Penn State came after not starting the previous two games; and the run by center Mike Tisdale, who is averaging 20.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in conference play.
While he's sprinkled some big numbers during the season, Davis hasn't taken a big step forward this season after a broken left ankle in the summer kept him from competing in the World University Games tryouts. The injury also hampered any development with outside shooting and ballhandling.
Davis ranks third on the Illini with an 11.2-point scoring average and leads the Big Ten by averaging 9.7 rebounds, but has hit a wall in the last three games.
After scoring 12 points on 6-for-16 shooting with 10 rebounds in the overtime loss to Gonzaga, Davis fell into the shadows. His stat line kept getting worse: six points and five rebounds against Iowa; two points on two shots and 11 rebounds with four turnovers at Indiana; two points on 1-for-6 shooting with four rebounds in 28 minutes against Penn State.
Unlike McCamey, Davis hasn't played his way to the bench, presumably because he has been a consistent rebounder.
"He's not even looking to shoot the ball,'' Weber said. "That's not the right way to deal with it either. Get in the gym. Work on your shot and get confidence back. Find other ways to get baskets. Run the court. If we knew the other guys would rebound, maybe they'd get more opportunities.''
Before the Penn State game, Davis wasn't concerned about losing his starting spot like McCamey did for two games.
"(Weber) hasn't really talked to me about it,'' Davis said. "If he chooses that, I have to be ready, play my game and come off the bench.''
Meanwhile, senior forward Dominique Keller and freshman guard Brandon Paul saw their minutes sliced because of a lack of productivity.
A scoring whiz to start the season, Paul was 0-for-5 in 7 minutes played against Penn State. In league play, he's averaging 3.8 points while shooting 17.4 percent from the field. Keller scored two points with no rebounds in 11 minutes against Penn State. With so little production from the bench, the Illini are relying on six players.
"We're still kind of evolving,'' Weber said. "I told the guys to feel good about yourself. Now we have to get some guys' confidence back. If we get everyone connected and playing well, we could be OK.''
Weber gave the Illini Wednesday off, the first full off day since returning from Christmas break.
"Maybe some of them need to get away,'' he said.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.