MOLINE — The Illinois State women’s basketball lost two regular-season games to its first-round Missouri Valley Conference Tournament opponent by 22 and 18 points, respectively. 

Ouch. 

Yet Redbird coach Kristen Gillespie insists she has located a silver lining to opposing No. 3 seed Northern Iowa in a tournament quarterfinal contest Friday at 8:32 p.m. at the TaxSlayer Center.

“What I do like is the first game we were tied at half and then it got away. We were up one (near) the end of the third quarter at their place,” Gillespie said. “It’s amazing what a couple missed layups can do. In the blink of an eye against a team like Northern Iowa one or two points can escalate to a 9-10 point game.”

Here, however, is the important part, according to Gillespie. 

“We have to make our kids understand we were right there,” she said.

The sixth-seeded Redbirds take a 14-15 record into a matchup with the 17-12 Panthers, who defeated ISU, 58-36, on Jan. 28 at Redbird Arena and 66-48 on Feb. 23 in Cedar Falls.

"Our perspective is that we're winning. Our perspective is that we're getting to the championship game," said ISU senior forward Hannah Green, a first-team all-MVC selection. "It's a matter of preparing like that every single day and believing we have the ability to do it. That's our belief."

The Redbirds have given themselves more reason to believe by winning six of nine games over the second half of the Valley schedule.

"Our team feels really comfortable within the roles of our offense," Gillespie said. "We're never going to put up big numbers. But we try to defend, rebound and play as hard as we can."

Defense and rebounding are Northern Iowa strong suits. The Panthers forced ISU into 40 turnovers and outrebounded the Redbirds by a combined 67-57 margin in the two regular-season meetings.

"We've got to score the ball," said Gillespie. "We've gone through droughts against them, but you have to give Northern Iowa a ton of credit. They are always going to give us different looks. They do a great job taking our posts out."

MVC Newcomer of the Year Simone Goods, a 6-foot-2 junior, leads ISU at 13.7 points per game with Green at 12.8. Viria Livingston is the top rebounder despite her modest 5-8 stature at 6.3, with Goods and Green both at 6.0.

"Illinois State is very, very good. They play extremely hard and can score in a variety of ways," Panthers coach Tanya Warren said. "They create mismatches with Goods and her ability to post up and shoot 15-footers. Green is a nightmare. She shoots the three extremely well and posts up."

Northern Iowa boasts the MVC rebounding leader in 6-1 sophomore Megan Maahs, who averages 10.1 boards while scoring at a 10.4 clip.

Senior guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick tops the Panthers at 10.7 points with junior guard Ellie Howell at 10.0. Kirkpatrick also paces Northern Iowa in assists (107), 3-pointers (42) and steals (30).

"I think they scouted us really well. We have to be able to execute better," Green said of the regular season. "In the first half of games against UNI we keep up and play really well. For some reason we get a little sloppy and things don’t continue."

The ISU-UNI winner faces either No. 2 Missouri State or No. 7 Bradley in a 4:02 p.m. semifinal Saturday.

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt