COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Shaunzinski Gortman and her South Carolina teammates don't spend much time worrying over games. They leave that to their coach.
"I like our team," Lady Gamecocks coach Susan Walvius said. "They're always telling me to calm down."
Gortman's 24 points helped No. 9 South Carolina (21-3, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) break open a close game and put Walvius' mind at ease with a 69-54 victory over Alabama on Thursday night.
After blowing a 10-point lead in the first half and watching the Crimson Tide (15-9, 5-6) get two quick baskets to start the final 20 minutes and get within 27-26, Walvius had reason to fret.
But Gortman shored things up with a jumper and Tatyana Troina closed a 14-2 run with a four-point play and a 3-pointer to give the Lady Gamecocks a 41-28 lead and put the game out of reach.
"I think we've handled very well" being one of the favorites in the SEC, Gortman said. "We didn't play very well tonight, but we hustled and got the job done."
Alabama made one last charge, getting to 45-42 with 8:46 to go on Monique Bivins' second 3-pointer. But Gortman scored the next four points to start an 11-2 run for the Lady Gamecocks.
"I think the game wasn't pretty at all," said Troina, a senior from Belarus. "But we found the ways to pull it out and didn't let go and still ended up on top. This is something very important."
The Crimson Tide had come in off two straight wins, including a 92-86 victory over then-No. 25 Mississippi State on Feb. 7. But they could never find their rhythm at the Carolina Coliseum.
Alabama missed its first seven shots and trailed 10-0 nearly nine minutes into the game.
The Crimson Tide had 20 turnovers. Leading scorer Shondra Johnson, averaging 15 points coming, did not score in the first half and ended with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Alabama coach Rick Moody said the worst thing he did this trip might have been letting his club watch the Crimson Tide men play the Gamecocks a night earlier. "What did they have - a whopping 15 points at halftime," Moody said.
But when his team rallied, he used Alabama men's comeback - the Crimson Tide pulled out a 52-51 victory here - as inspiration.
"I told them in the huddle having watched our guys fight back, it was certainly feasible we could do the same," he said.
Until Gortman finished them off. She shot 10-of-16 from the field, ending a point shy of her season high. She also was South Carolina's main threat as Alabama choked off Jocelyn Penn's transition game until the game's late stages.
Penn scored 10 of her 16 points during the final three minutes when the game was already decided.
Walvius wasn't pleased with her team's offensive play.
"We're focused on competing, not winning," she said. "When we compete and we fight, we usually come out with a W. It's the hustle of our team that's won a lot of basketball games for us."
Christina Ciocan scored 13 points and Troina 12 for the Lady Gamecocks, who are battling Tennessee for the SEC title. The Lady Vols are 9-1 in league play with a game at Mississippi State later Thursday.
LaNisha Cartwell led Alabama with 11 points.
After Alabama dug itself out of its early hole to tie things at 16-all, Gortman scored the last six points of the half for the Lady Gamecocks, including a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to give them a 27-21 lead at the break.
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