MOLINE — Opposing the Drake women's basketball team is a bit like assembling a house of playing cards.
No matter how meticulous your construction, the Bulldogs have the wherewithal to make it all come tumbling down.
A six-point Illinois State third-quarter lead disappeared in a flash Saturday at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and Drake marched on to Sunday's title game with a 65-54 semifinal victory at the TaxSlayer Center.
"They are so good. At every position they have shot makers. They made big shots, and we couldn't answer," ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. "People were surprised we kept it close, but our players weren't surprised. We were coming to win, and we really believed that."
The Redbirds' first winning season since 2013 resulted in a 19-12 record. Gillespie does not expect to receive a bid to a postseason tournament, saying "a lot would have to happen. But if they want to invite us, we won't turn it down."
Ranked 21st nationally, Drake is 27-5 and 65-1 in its last 66 games against MVC competition.
"Wow is the best thing I can say. It's been really fun to see how good this league is," said Bulldogs coach Jennie Baranczyk. "They get after it and play hard."
Despite senior standout Simone Goods picking up her third and fourth fouls in a seven-second span early in the third quarter, ISU erased a 31-30 Drake edge with two Lexi Wallen inside buckets sandwiching a TeTe Maggett 3-pointer.
Yet over the final 3:33 of the third period, Drake reeled off 14 straight points, Redbirds Lexy Koudelka and Katrina Beck were tagged with their fourth fouls and the Bulldogs carried a 47-40 margin into the fourth quarter.
"We got back to us. We loosened up and started having fun," Drake junior Sara Rhine said. "We were smooth in what we were doing and playing off each other."
ISU clawed back within 51-47 on three straight Wallen points. But the Bulldogs set off on a 12-1 surge with two 3-pointers from Becca Hittner and one each off the fingers of Maddy Dean and Nicole Miller.
"They play at a fast tempo all game long, and they have all these subs they can bring in," said Maggett. "We kind of got tired. It's just tough."
Maggett led ISU with 21 points and Wallen had 13. Goods was limited to two points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing time.
Wallen, who played her first game for the Redbirds on Dec. 7 after ending a four-year ISU volleyball career, is eligible to return for one more basketball season.
"The decision hasn't been made yet. I've been focusing on this season," said Wallen. "There will definitely be a conversation (with the Redbird coaches) after the season."
Hittner paced Drake with 22, while Rhine contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds. The Bulldogs converted 36 percent of their shots (18 of 50).
"We started to play together and got the tempo back in our direction," Baranczyk said. "It was not necessarily our best offensive performance, but credit Illinois State for some of that."
ISU shot a mere 29 percent from the field (19 of 65) and was outscored 19-9 at the free throw line.
"We got hit by a lot of adversity," said Gillespie. "Their motion offense is so hard to guard. We tried to put a lot of ball pressure on to disrupt some of their passing. When you put on pressure, you're prone to getting foul calls."
Drake seized a 13-5 lead before the Redbirds struck back with a Beck 3-pointer and two consecutive treys from Maggett.
ISU forged ahead 21-16 on a Koudelka three-point play and led 24-18 on a Maggett 3-pointer 3:19 before halftime.
Even with Dean's buzzer-beating 3-pointer for a 26-26 tie, it was Drake's lowest scoring first half of the season.
Missouri State 89, Northern Iowa 64: No. 2 seed Missouri State overwhelmed No. 3 Northern Iowa in the second semifinal and will take on Drake in Sunday's 2 p.m. championship game.
Danielle Gitzen paced the Bears (22-9) with 22 points, while Jasmine Franklin pulled down 14 rebounds. UNI bowed out at 20-12 and was led by Karli Rucker's 21 points.
Drawing a crowd: Saturday's semifinal round attendance of 2,254 was the third highest session crowd at a neutral site in tournament history.