MOLINE — The No. 4 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, the Illinois State women’s basketball team split two games with No. 2 Missouri State and defeated No. 3 Northern Iowa twice.
The Redbirds did not fare nearly as well against No. 5 Bradley, dropping both regular-season contests to the Braves.
For better or worse, ISU receives another shot at Bradley on Friday at the TaxSlayer Center in a 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal tournament matchup.
"We have a tall task at hand," Redbirds coach Kristen Gillespie said. "For whatever reason, we have not been able to crack the code of Bradley. They play very hard and very physical with us. Our kids are really looking forward to the challenge."
ISU enters "Hoops in the Heartland" with its best record since 2012-13 at 18-11 overall and 11-7 in MVC action. The Redbirds have won eight of their last 10 outings.
"We started 1-4 and had three starters out (with injuries). It's been a hodge podge of trying to figure out roles, who could step in and who could step up," said Gillespie. "It helps we have four seniors. We have a tremendous sense of urgency that stems from them and their leadership."
"We struggled guarding them for some reason," Gillespie said. "It has to be a team effort defensively. We need to do a much better job rebounding at both ends."
At 20-9 overall and 10-8 in the MVC, Bradley posted just its second 20-win season in program history.
"I'm excited about our progress. We've done some great things with a pretty young team," said Braves coach Andrea Gorski. "We need more consistency day in and day out."
Chelsea Brackmann, a 6-foot-1 junior and all-Valley player, hurt the Redbirds with a combined 30 points and 24 rebounds in the two Braves' wins over the Redbirds. Freshman guard Lasha Petree scored 37 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
"We stopped the ball better than average (against ISU)," Gorski said. "We were able to be aggressive and get to the free throw line."
Bradley's second all-Valley player and leading scorer is sophomore guard Gabi Haack, who averages 15.2 points.
Redbird all-conference players senior Simone Goods and junior TeTe Maggett each scored 33 points this season against Bradley.
"We need to come out focused and have a winning mindset," said Maggett. "Those two games we were not really locked in."
Freshman forward Lexy Koudelka posted career highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds in the second Braves' game.
"She's now on Bradley's scouting report," Gillespie said of Koudelka. "I don't know if she made it the first time."
ISU, which is seeking its first MVC Tournament quarterfinal victory since 2014, will need to take care of the basketball better than it has previously against Bradley. The Redbirds committed 33 turnovers to 18 for the Braves in the two matchups.