COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kristy Curry understands things will eventually improve for Alabama women's basketball. And she just had to look at her coaching rival Sunday for proof that better days are possible.
Curry's first-year program took another double-digit hit in the Southeastern Conference in a 77-51 loss — their third such SEC loss in five games this season — to the eighth-ranked Gamecocks, the Crimson Tide's eighth-straight defeat in the series.
Curry, brought in from Texas Tech to rebuild, recalls Dawn Staley's early struggles at South Carolina when it took the Hall of Famer four seasons before her team posted a winning conference record. Now, Staley's group is among the league leaders and top team teams in the country.
"You look up five years ago and I believe Dawn was in a very similar spot," Curry said. "So we have a lot of respect for her process here and how she's handled that. I think we've all been in that journey."
Right now for the Crimson Tide, it's about forgetting the problems that crop up against taller, more established teams. Alabama shot just 21 percent in a 61-39 loss to rival Auburn and were under 33 percent against the Gamecocks.
The Tide were outrebounded 43-24 and had no answer for South Carolina's frontline of 6-foot-4 Elem Ibiam, 6-4 Alaina Coates and 6-foot Aleighsa Welch, who combined for 40 points and 28 rebounds.
"We understand what it's about. I think the most important thing is these kids understand and that we just work to win the day," Curry said.
Ibiam scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added seven rebounds and two blocks. Welch had 12 points and 10 boards, while Coates had 10 points and nine rebounds.
"It felt good to try and get that early start," Ibiam said. "We've been talking all year about what changes we need to make or what we need to do before the game to get us out of the gate early."
South Carolina might want to repeat what it did before this one. Alabama fell behind by double digits eight minutes in and could never close the gap. The Gamecocks eventually led 60-31 on Coates foul shots with 13 minutes to go.
Ashley Williams had 16 points to lead the Crimson Tide.
The Gamecocks had built a 17-point lead at halftime and used a strong start after the break to end any hopes of an Alabama rally. Ibiam had three baskets as South Carolina made five of its first six attempts to lead 54-29.
The Crimson Tide hit only one of their first seven attempts in the period.
South Carolina was off to its best SEC start in history at 4-0 until falling at No. 25 Texas A&M in overtime, 67-65, this past Thursday night.
The Gamecocks fell behind by 17 points at halftime in that one. Against the Crimson Tide, South Carolina jumped on top and kept pushing the pace.
Elem Ibiam scored seven of the Gamecocks first nine points and Asia Dozier hit the first of two three-pointers to take a 12-5 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Aleighsa Welch's basket increased the margin to 27-12 with 8:12 left and Alabama couldn't get closer than 13 points the rest of half.
Dozier and Tiffany Mitchell hit 3s and Welch added a basket and two foul shots to give the Gamecocks a 43-21 lead.
Alabama scored the final five points of the period to cut it to 43-26 at the break.
The game marked the start of the SEC's "We Back Pat" week, where team's show support and raise awareness of The Pat Summitt Foundation as it fight's Alzheimer's disease.
Summitt stepped down as Tennessee's coach in April 2012, one year after announcing she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She remains on staff as head coach emeritus. Her 1,098 career wins are the most of any Division I men's or women's basketball coach.
Players on both teams wore "We Back Pat" warmup shirts.