Bruce Weber stood in one corner of a quiet locker room with a long face and voice reduced nearly to a whisper. It told everyone what they needed to know. Weber looked like it was only a matter of time until he would no longer be the basketball coach at Illinois. He wasn't expected to meet Thursday night with athletic director Mike Thomas after the 64-61 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament's first round, but the meeting could come as early as Friday morning.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bruce Weber stood in one corner of a quiet locker room with a long face and voice reduced nearly to a whisper. It told everyone what they needed to know.
Weber looked like it was only a matter of time until he would no longer be the basketball coach at Illinois. He wasn't expected to meet Thursday night with athletic director Mike Thomas after the 64-61 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament's first round, but the meeting could come as early as Friday morning.
"There are great moments in life,'' said Weber, the guy who guided the Illini to their only NCAA title game in appearance in school history. "Some moments aren't so good. You've got to approach life with a positive attitude.
"Sometimes it's not fair. It's what you do about it that makes a difference.''
The Illini finished the regular season with a 17-15 record and are on the NIT bubble, Weber said, after standing 15-3 in early January. The 12 losses in the last 14 games might be enough to force Thomas' hand, but Weber also led a program that failed to reach the NCAAs for the third time in the last five seasons and won just one NCAA tournament game since 2006.
In his first year at Illinois, Thomas has already fired football coach Ron Zook and women's basketball coach Jolette Law, each move coming one day after the end of the regular season. The big question over the last two weeks was when -- not if -- Thomas would make a move on Weber.
"If I'm the coach at Illinois, I'll coach every day just like I always do,'' Weber said.
The season might already be concluded
"We're on the bubble for the NIT,'' he said. "We have to wait and see how things unfold.''
After Weber's program seemed to regain its momentum with recent recruiting victories, the wheels came off in the second half of the season.
"It's been a great group,'' Weber said. "I feel bad for them that they haven't had more success.''
It was a crazy day. One Illini fan wore a T-shirt saying he saw the last Illini game coached by Weber (unfortunately, he spelled Weber's name wrong). In the pregame introductions, the public address announcer called him Bryce Weber.
"It's been a very tough situation,'' said Illini center Meyers Leonard, who scored a team-high 18 points but didn't attempt a shot in the final 10 minutes and 16 seconds. "We have so much talent.''
Leading 44-37 midway through the second half, the Illini weren't in a comfortable position but appeared the better team. Then Iowa used an 18-4 run to take control. While the Hawkeyes were grabbing 14 offensive rebounds in the second half to rally, the Illini were crumbling.
The Illini shot 26 3-pointers and didn't attempt a free throw. Weber pulled guard Brandon Paul after he was 1 of 7 from the field with four turnovers in the second half.
"He had a tendency all year to force things and try to do too much,'' Weber said. "Once it started going bad, he just kept going and trying to make the big play. Down the stretch, he was trying to make plays for us. That's one of our problems.
"Let the team do it. Move the ball. Get it to people.''
Leonard was visibly frustrated by the lack of touches down the stretch. Illinois cut an eight-point deficit to 62-61 with 16.1 left on a 3-pointer by Joe Bretrand. Guard Matt Gatens scored two of his 20 points on the following possession by sinking two free throws for Iowa (17-15). Illini guard D.J. Richardson's guarded 3-point attempt bounced off.
Weber exited through one tunnel. Thomas stood with his assistant in the tunnel at the other end of the court.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.
Illinois report card
Front court: B-
When Meyers Leonard gets the ball, he's dangerous. Unfortunately for the Illini, they're not very good at passing the ball.
Back court: F
Brandon Paul's second half sent the Illini out of the bracket.
Joe Bertrand made an impact. Sam Maniscalco logged some minutes.
The Illini weren't good enough to extend the season by one more day. Perhaps this was a merciful end.