FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- Second-ranked Alabama  struggled on the closing holes of the third round Thursday at the NCAA Cchampionships and finished with an 18-over-par round of 306 on the par-72, 6,264-yard North Course at the Vanderbilt Legends Club.The Crimson Tide (+13, 877) is two-shots better than Southern California (879), who shot 6-over 294 on Thursday, with Purdue, Virginia and South Carolina tied for third at 19-over 883. LSU is sixth at 20-over 884 while North Carolina (885), Arizona State (887), UCLA (888) and Oklahoma (888) round out the top 10.

The back nine, particularly the final four holes, proved to be the biggest obstacle for the Crimson Tide in round three. Alabama's top four-players shot 10-over on the final four holes and saw a 15-shot lead, with the Tide's No. 5 player in the fairway on the 17th, dissipate to two shots as the final putt dropped on 18.

Alabama head coach Mic Potter addressed the team following the round and reinforced that a tremendous opportunity remains in front of the Crimson Tide with the lead heading into Friday's final round.

1 Alabama 877
2 USC 879
3 Purdue 883
3 South Carolina 883
3 Virginia 883
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"The thing we need to do is stay positive, work on whatever went wrong, and see if we can get better by tomorrow," Potter said. "Then come out and play a little more lose, a little more confident."

Senior Brooke Pancake, who held the 36-hole individual lead, was working on a 1-under-par round Thursday through 14 holes before back-to-back double bogeys on the 14th and 15th marred an otherwise solid 16 holes to finish at 3-over 75. She is 3-under 213 for the tournament and tied for third, one shot back of Oklahoma's Chirapat Jao-Javanil and Arizona State's Giulia Molinaro.

"I made two pretty careless mistakes that definitely killed me," Pancake said. "I can't ponder on those and let it change my mind set for tomorrow. I've had two good rounds that put me in the position I'm in, and hopefully I can get another good one in tomorrow and finish well."

Jennifer Kirby shot 2-over 74 in the third round to move into a tie for 11th at 3-over 219. The junior was level par going into the 16th where she hit it into the water and made double bogey. Kirby then made bogey the 17th, but finished strong with a birdie on the 18th.

Stephanie Meadow was Alabama's third score at 6-over 78 and is tied for 17th at 4-over 220 over 54 holes. Courtney McKim also counted toward the Tide's score on Thursday with a 79. Hannah Collier was the drop score at 80.

"I think down the line, 1 through 5, we were holding on a little too tight all day," Potter said. "It is human nature to try to protect a lead. I don't know why it is that way because it almost always jumps up and bites you."

Alabama will play in the lead group in Friday's final round with Southern California and Purdue.