"I saw there were four seconds left, and I was at half court so I took a couple of dribbles in and just let her fly," Zolman said.
The shot ended Stanford's undefeated streak this season and continued Tennessee's streak over the Cardinal, which now extends to nine games, including last March when former Lady Vol Tasha Butts hit the winning bucket with less than two seconds remaining.
Zolman's last-second heroics were set up when senior Brittany Jackson, who had excelled offensively all night, missed two free throws with 15 seconds left and Tennessee ahead 67-64. Stanford senior guard Kelley Suminski nailed a 3-pointer – her fourth of the evening – from 20 feet with five seconds left.
Zolman raced down court – "Nobody picked me up," she said – and fortunately never looked at the bench, where Pat Summitt was trying to call a timeout.
"Obviously we thought we'd probably go into overtime," Summitt said. "I asked for a timeout. They looked back at me to see if I wanted it, and I decided I didn't want it. Once I saw the ball coming up the floor at a pretty rapid pace I just looked the other way."
"I saw her trying to call a timeout," junior center Tye'sha Fluker said.
"I didn't look over at the bench so I didn't know if she was calling timeout or not," said Zolman, who was 1-5 before taking the shot. "I really just let it fly. It felt like a normal shot. As soon as I let it go I knew it was going in. It was a rough night. I had played terrible all night long, hadn't hit a shot and then that last one goes in. I'm glad it did."
Suminski, who was the high scorer for the Cardinal with 21 points, had been burning the Lady Vols with her long-distance shots all game. Suminski had 15 of Stanford's points at halftime, when the Cardinal led by two, 31-29.
Stanford extended its lead to eight points, 42-34, with 15:22 left, but Fluker scored on a putback and then a layup to pull Tennessee within four. The game was tied twice thereafter and at 46-46, Jackson went on a run. She scored from 10 feet, 20 feet, a layup and the line.
After a spectacular assist by Alexis Hornbuckle – she stole the ball, headed cross-court, dribbled behind her back and lobbed a pass over her head to Sidney Spencer – Tennessee was up 57-48. The players on the Lady Vols bench were all standing – including the assistant coaches who had to stand up to peek around the players – and cheering and waving towels. But the Cardinal chipped away at the lead and managed to tie the game with seconds left.
"We put ourselves in a position with a great shot by Kelley to go into overtime and then unfortunately got beat by an equally great shot by Zolman," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
After practice this season Zolman and Hornbuckle have been holding contests at center court to see who can hit their shots from really long range.
"Zolman and Hornbuckle, they've had some great contests," Summitt said. "Zolman is very accurate from long-range threes. But once she let it go first I thought it's going to be short. And then I thought that is going in."
All of Tennessee's players piled onto Zolman after the shot as an impromptu celebration took place near the far sideline. Summitt was headed to the locker room when she looked back and realized Stanford's players were still lined up and waiting so that they could shake the hands of the Tennessee's players. Summitt hustled across the floor to retrieve her players. At the same time the officials were making a routine check of the play to make sure the shot was indeed good.
Stanford, now 8-1, was ranked No. 2 in the nation when it came into the Knoxville to take on No. 9-ranked Tennessee, now 8-2.
"For us fortunately Tye Fluker decided to show up," Summitt said. "It makes all the difference in the world to have an anchor inside. She had a very strong presence. We had a lot of people make some big plays for us, none bigger than the one you remember at the end. I think Alexis Hornbuckle settled down in the second half and really ran our offense for us and came up with some big defensive plays as well. Just a great team win."
VanDerveer also saw a lot to like about the game.
"First of all I think people got their money's worth," she said. "I thought it was a great game. I'm really proud of our team and how we competed. Obviously myself and our team are very disappointed with the outcome. I thought our team really struggled with their pressure but battled really well, made big plays, defended well.
"I thought Kelley was the best player on the floor today. She really stepped up. She's doing a great job as a senior, as a leader. As hard as it is right now it'll pay off big dividends for us down the road. … In fairness to both teams when you don't have your senior point guard with Loree Moore or Susan Borchardt for us you saw a lot of turnovers for both teams with people kind of struggling with the pressure."
Stanford had 21 turnovers – seven by Suminski and seven by freshman guard Candice Wiggins. Tennessee had 18. The task of guarding the speedy Wiggins, who scored 15 points on 5-12 shooting, fell to senior forward Shyra Ely.
"It was a task," Ely said. "She is a great player. I tried to just limit her touches, get her a little frustrated, take her out of her rhythm. I just tried to move my feet. She has a really quick first step. Like I said she's a great player, and I'm just glad that I could defend."
Ely was the leading scorer for Tennessee – 16 points and six rebounds – and was one of four Lady Vols in double figures. Jackson and Hornbuckle had 11 points each, and Fluker had her best game of the season with 13 points and eight rebounds.
"Ask her and tell me what she says," said Summitt, when asked what the difference was for Fluker. "I don't know; maybe it was because she was playing against West Coast players. She got fired up to see some of her friends from home."
"The difference was how aggressive I was and just going out there and playing for my team and playing together for my team," said Fluker, who is from Pasadena, Calif., and conceded that the combination of playing a team from California and going home for Christmas break may have motivated her "just a little."
Fluker's California teammate, Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, who is from Pomona, played sparingly after a stellar debut Sunday against TCU. Summitt said the limited minutes were because of "game situation."
"I don't think it would have been fair to her. I think she was ready offensively; I'm not sure she was ready defensively," Summitt said. "I told her afterwards I said, ‘It was just a matter of the time and situation. It's more your defense than your offense. But you're still my girl. Don't go home and hang your head on this one. We're counting on you.' "
When Tennessee needed offense in the second half it got it from Jackson.
"Brittany put the ball on the floor to create a lot of her scoring opportunities," Summitt said. "She's one of our best and most-aggressive players off the dribble and finds a way to get by the defense. That's because she plays north to south. She's looking to go straight at the basket. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Tennessee had some lulls on offense – including several possessions in which the team looked out of sync and the shot clock ticked down too quickly without anyone getting a good shot.
"That's my fault," Summitt said. "I called about three options that they weren't comfortable with. We didn't get the ball inside early and the guard play was not as aggressive across the middle. When we ran our motion I didn't think we made strong cuts. My staff did a great job. I just want to compliment them. They did a great job with substituting off the bench and also identifying where we wanted to get the basketball."
Ely said the players should shoulder the blame for the hiccups in the offense.
"Most of the time it was our own poor judgment or bad decision-making that led to turnovers," Ely said.
It seemed everyone was circumspect after the game, regardless of whether or not they were on the winning or losing side.
"Basketball is a game of spurts and runs," VanDerveer said. "We were up eight and then we're down nine. And then we came back. It was a great game. This is what it's like in the tournament. This is how we prepared for it. This is how we played it. It was a December game that had a feel of March.
"We did so many good things in this game. I'm just infinitely proud of how well our team competed. We'll be better because of it. If I didn't think that we should really cancel the series. It's masochistic. I think we just have to look at the big picture."
For the players who took the big 3s at the end of the game – Suminski to tie it and Zolman to win it – it was more of the same.
"Obviously I feel very disappointed about how it ended," Suminski said. "We're definitely not giving up. This is very motivating for us. We're just going to learn from our mistakes and really improve from this. We came up a little short."
"It always good going off on Christmas break with a win," Zolman said. "No. 1, you don't have that hanging over your head with a loss. No. 2, you don't know what coach Summitt is going to do to us when we get back. It was a key win for us because we are getting back to playing how Tennessee should be playing."