Pizza and wings. Sounds like comfort food to most guys. When the Illinois basketball team gathered at sophomore Meyers Leonard's apartment, they threw down some calories and watched Iowa defeat Wisconsin in a Big Ten game Thursday night. While informally scouting the Hawkeyes, the Illini may have helped themselves by pulling together.

CHAMPAIGN -- Pizza and wings. Sounds like comfort food to most guys.

When the Illinois basketball team gathered at sophomore Meyers Leonard's apartment, they threw down some calories and watched Iowa defeat Wisconsin in a Big Ten game Thursday night. While informally scouting the Hawkeyes, the Illini may have helped themselves by pulling together.

"I've never been through something like this,'' said Leonard. "I've always been able to overcome things in my life, especially in sports. It's been tough, no doubt about it.''

Illinois (16-12 overall, 5-10 in the Big Ten) has lost nine of 10 games and host Iowa (15-13, 7-8) on Sunday (5 p.m., BTN).

It's no secret. After losing the last two games by 39 points combined, the priority for the Illini is finding some pride and energy.

Athletic director Mike Thomas, perhaps not coincidentally, found himself in gym clothes working out in the weight room just when the Illini were getting in a pre-practice lift.

"I thought it was a good opportunity to let them know I support them,'' Thomas said. "I believe in them. The coaches believe in them. The people who work with them everyday believe in them. They need to believe in themselves.''

Some leadership and defense would also be helpful. Freshman point guard Tracy Abrams stood up after the loss at Michigan earlier this month and told the team to play better defense.

Perhaps that's one of the problems, coach Bruce Weber said. The Illini were relying on a rookie for leadership.

"If you want to be a great coach, get the best player to the best leader and hardest worker,'' Weber said. "Phil Jackson was a master at that. Maybe he was just very fortunate to have Michael and Kobe. Phil could chill because Michael went harder than anybody. Kobe would stay after shooting.''

Guard Brandon Paul is known for his 43 points against Ohio State, but when his defense disappeared, it affected the team just as much.

"Part of the reason we're struggling is myself,'' Paul said. "I haven't been guarding. It's been tough on me. I don't need any sympathy. I have to get better.''

Key stats that point to the Illini's troubles: they rank last in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (29.7 percent) while also ranking last in 3-point shooting defense (40.2). Illinois also ranks last in assist-turnover ratio.

With the resurgent Hawkeyes headed to town, the Illini face a last chance to get anything going with back-to-back home games. It comes down to energy and pride.

"They've been good in practices,'' Weber said. "What happens is when you've lost some disappointing games, your spirit is a little shaken. When another team gets a push at you, we don't have the gumption, the toughness to stand up and give them a shot back.''

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