For the first time in his tenure coaching the Gophers, Tubby Smith has lost four games in a row. And it could get worse, judging by the way his team is playing right now.

After the Gophers' 71-62 loss to Illinois on Thursday night at Williams Arena, Smith vowed to accept any criticism that comes his way after the program's worst stretch since the 9-22 season in 2006-07. But he said it's up to players to find a remedy.

"I'm going to do the same thing I normally do. It's not much you can change. The system works, you just gotta have the right people on the bus," Smith said. "We gotta get those folks believing and trusting and believing in what we're doing and doing it the right way, but obviously, what happens is people start questioning Coach's philosophy. ... 'Coach don't know what he's doing.'

"After 30-something years, everybody's going to question you when you're losing. I don't care if it's a four-game losing streak or a one-game losing streak. I don't mind taking it, but I'm not going to take it with guys not doing it the way we say do it. And that's what we're going to get back to ... the basic fundamentals. ... Physically, maybe they ain't capable of doing some of the things that we're asking them to do. So I gotta figure that out."

By that juncture in the most candid postgame news conference of his tenure, Smith had spent nearly 10 minutes questioning individual players' abilities and decisions.

Blake Hoffarber, who scored 15 points but shot 3-for-10 from three-point range and missed his final five tries, caught the worst of it.

"I thought Blake took some bad shots. That cost us. Just to be point blank, tell you exactly what it was," Smith said. "I don't know what it was. I just asked him, I just told him, 'Why don't you shot-fake and get a foul one time, please, during a game?' "

Rodney Williams, whose offensive struggles continued with a 2-for-8, four-turnover performance, got some, too.

"We're not getting much out of Rodney," Smith said. "He's standing around. I don't know what it is. We try to get him involved."

The Gophers (16-8, 5-7 Big Ten) looked like a team headed for an NCAA tournament lock before their current losing streak threatened those plans. They had their chances to end their slide Thursday, but they failed to execute.

The teams battled to a 51-51 tie with 7 minutes, 29 seconds to go. Illinois (16-8, 6-5) outscored the Gophers 20-11 the rest of the way.

There were air balls, bad shots and missed layups in the final minutes. The Gophers also hurt themselves by going 10-for-17 at the free-throw line.

Hoffarber, Williams and Austin Hollins all had four turnovers apiece, another sign that this team has lost plenty since point guard Al Nolen broke his right foot last month.

And now a team that's 1-5 on the road in conference play will travel to Iowa on Sunday and Penn State next week.

Ralph Sampson III scored 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting and added 11 rebounds and four blocks. Trevor Mbakwe recorded his 14th double-double of the season by finishing with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

Smith wondered why Mbakwe (6-for-9 shooting) didn't get more scoring opportunities.

"I gotta look at it and see why we didn't throw the ball to him more often," he said.

In a troubling assessment of the Gophers' performance, Sampson said they lost a must-win game because of a lack of desire. "I think Illinois just wanted it more than we did," he said.

Smith said players need to question themselves: "When a guy questions how hard [the team is playing] ... what happens is you look in your mirror and you say, 'Hey, what am I doing, how hard am I working?' "