Illinois basketball looked to a fresh start in the new year after a bad finish to 2011.

EVANSTON -- Illinois basketball looked to a fresh start in the new year after a bad finish to 2011.

Leading Purdue by seven points late in the first half, Illinois gave up in the second half. A team short on experience touted itself as a group of fighters, but there was little emotion or effort against the Boilermakers. After a 15-point loss to the Boilermakers, Illinois practiced twice on Monday.

When Illinois plays at Northwestern on Wednesday in a Big Ten Conference game, the Illini shoot for their first win at Welsh-Ryan Arena since 2009.

"It's a big week,'' said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. "We have to play better. You're not going to beat people unless you play better.

"I don't think there's any doubt they were humbled by the (Purdue) game. We'll see how they respond. Wednesday night, the biggest things are intensity and energy.''

The Illini could be without guard Sam Maniscalco, who is a day to day with ankle pain, Weber said.

While the Illini host Nebraska on Saturday for a second game this week against teams expected to finish in the Big Ten's second division, Illinois no longer sees a trip to Northwestern as an easy win.

For decades, it was merely a quick road trip, grab the victory and a sandwich for the bus ride back to Champaign and more important things.

From 1980 through 2009, the Illini posted a 53-5 record against the Wildcats, but Illinois lost during the last two trips to Northwestern. No player on the Illini roster won a game in Welsh-Ryan Arena, so D.J. Richardson/Brandon Paul/Tyler Griffey are 0-5 in Chicagoland, when you include the three games lost in the United Center.

Some of the growth expected by three-year starters is making adjustments on the fly. It didn't happen against Purdue.

"I haven't won in Chicago since I've played here,'' Richardson said. "One of my goals is to go up there and get a win.

"We should have tough enough guards to change the mindset of the game and do different things without the coach having to tell us. That's our fault. We've got to do a good job and be better ballplayers.''

During the 18-0 run when Purdue pulled away from the Illini on Saturday, the Boilermakers scored 12 points off turnovers. A prerequisite for a victory also means more from sophomore center Meyers Leonard, who had seven points and six rebounds.

"We struggled against Purdue, weren't very aggressive and had bad body language, myself included,'' said Leonard, who faced physical defense at Purdue. "That's how it is in the Big Ten, especially since teams know they're going to try to come at me and get me frustrated.

"I have to be ready for it, be stronger, especially on the road where I know I'm not going to get many calls. I have to keep fighting through it.''

Maniscalco needed a walking boot and a week off when the Illini prepared for the two exhibition games to start the season. It might be time for some rest for his painful left ankle.

After three games in five days capped by the Braggin' Rights game against Missouri, Maniscalco showed the ankle was again a problem. Playing in pain is nothing new for Maniscalco, but he was limping noticeably after the loss at Purdue and was kept out of practice Monday.

His workload wasn't expected to increase dramatically Tuesday, and Weber didn't make any assurances Maniscalco would be full speed against Northwestern.

"The three games in that one stretch right before Christmas took a toll on him,'' Weber said. "We just have to wait and see. You hope he doesn't have to sit out. He will gut it out if he can.

"At the same time, if it's to a point where he can't really use the foot and the ankle, there's a chance we may have to sit him.''

With single games this season against Iowa and Penn State, the Illini can't afford to come up empty against teams expected to finish in the Big Ten's second division. The Illini entered the week as a No. 11 seed in the NCAAs, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

"In the past, I'm sure I've thought about it (already),'' Paul said. "Right now, I've not thought about at all.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.

Illinois (12-3, 1-1) vs. Northwestern (11-3, 1-1)
6 p.m., Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston (BTN, Illini Sports Network)

ILLINOIS (12-3, 1-1)   ppg     rpg
F Joe Bertrand 6-5 So. 5.2 1.6
C Meyers Leonard 7-1 So. 13.4 8.3
G Brandon Paul 6-4 Jr. 12.3 4.4
G D.J. Richardson 6-3 Jr. 14.3 3.2
G Sam Maniscalco 6-0 Sr. 9.9 2.4

NORTHWESTERN (11-3, 1-1)     ppg   rpg
F John Shurna 6-9 Sr. 18.6 6.1
F Drew Crawford 6-5 Jr. 17.9 4.9
C Luka Mirkovic 6-11 Sr. 7.6 4.3
G Reggie Hearn 6-4 Jr. 5.1 2.9
G Drew Sobolewski 6-3 Fr. 8.8 2.9

Noteworthy: Illinois attempts to snap a four-game road losing streak in Big Ten play and a two-game skid at Northwestern. ... Over the last six games, Illini center Meyers Leonard is averaging 14.2 points and 10.5 rebounds after getting seven points and six rebounds vs. Purdue. ... No one on the Illini roster has won at Welsh-Ryan Arena. ... Northwestern shot 71.4 percent in the second half in a 68-56 win over Penn State on Sunday.

Key for Illini: Play hard. The effort at Purdue was underwhelming.

Key for Wildcats: Make the Illini defend a tricky, patient offense.

Key quote: "We froze a little the way (Purdue) guarded us. No you learn from that and recognize that, make improvements and perform better the next time.'' -- Illini coach Bruce Weber.

Prediction: Illinois 64, Northwestern 62