COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Three days later, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley wasn't over her team's first Southeastern Conference loss of the season. She is sure glad her players weren't the same way.
The eighth-ranked Gamecocks started fast and didn't let up in a 77-51 victory over Alabama on Sunday. This past Thursday night, they had dug their way out of a 17-point hole to force overtime before falling at No. 25 Texas A&M, 67-66.
"I had some residuals" about the loss, Staley acknowledged. "We wanted to win and I thought there were some things we could've done."
The team? That was a different story.
"They had a lot of energy the last two days," Staley said. "I wasn't worried."
Elem Ibiam scored 18 points as the taller, stronger Gamecocks (17-2, 4-1 SEC) dominated throughout over the Crimson Tide (8-10, 1-4).
The 6-foot-4 Ibiam made 7 of 11 shots and added seven rebounds and two blocks. Six-foot Aleighsa Welch had 12 points and 10 boards, while 6-4 freshman Alaina 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.
Alabama first-year coach Kristy Curry said she wanted her players to defend the inside first and then the perimeter when the Gamecocks kicked it out. Neither strategy worked.
"Obviously, their size was to their advantage today and they used it quite well," Curry said.
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.
South Carolina also paid tribute to its own Hall of Fame coach in Staley, enshrined this past September. There were video tributes from Staley's former Olympic coach Van Chancellor and her college coach, Debbie Ryan, among others.
Staley was happy for the tributes, but ready for them to end. "They told me this was the last one," she said. "I'm focused on us winning basketball games."
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